I Grew Up Believing My Grandfather Was A War Hero. Army Records Said Otherwise

Company A of the 193rd Tank Battalion landed on Okinawa on April 9 and was on the receiving end of an artillery barrage for the first time on April 14. When I got to the reports for April 19 and 20, I found a list of names: the wounded, the dead and the missing. I saw no mention of my grandfather. A week later, on April 26, updates were made: five men who had initially been listed as missing were now listed as killed in action. On April 29, another soldier’s status was changed from M.I.A. to K.I.A. I kept flipping. On May 2, the day the order came for the exhausted and battle-depleted battalion to give up their tanks, 10 privates in Company A were promoted to the rank of private first class. There was still no mention of Hod anywhere.

Eighteen pages later, on May 20, I located him: Chrisinger, Harold B. Serial Number 36846058. Private. His name was second in an alphabetical list of 11 other soldiers. At the bottom of the list was a typed notation: “Above eleven (11) EM atchd unasgd fr 74th Replacement Bn APO 331 per VOCO 20th Armd Gp.” What did that mean? I scanned the remaining pages, searching for corrections. I found none. Unsure of where to turn, I texted a picture of the report to a couple veterans I know, and both told me it made sense: Private Chrisinger was transferred in from a replacement battalion, where he had been waiting to be assigned to an active unit in need of reinforcements. That meant my grandfather hadn’t joined the company until a full month after it had been mauled in the battle for Kakazu Ridge. He hadn’t been part of the furious fighting that knocked out 22 tanks. He hadn’t been there that day at all. And that meant that perhaps he wasn’t the battled-hardened war hero I wanted him to be.

At first, I fought it. After such an arduous journey, I couldn’t accept that my grandfather had lied, that he wasn’t a hero. I went back to the battalion and company records. I gathered up military maps, the pictures my grandfather brought home with him, and every other bit of evidence I had collected over the years. I had stacks of sources printed from glitchy websites, and pages and pages of handwritten notes on white and yellow legal pads. I thought that if I looked hard enough, it would all somehow resolve and rearrange itself into the picture I wanted to see. It didn’t. The last time my father and I talked about Hod’s war record, he still wanted to believe there might have been a mistake in the paperwork. I think Hod just lied.

I’ll never know if he lied because he felt ashamed by what he had done, or hadn’t done, on Okinawa. The records make it clear that he hadn’t fought in the pitched battles, and maybe he felt that he hadn’t faced war’s ultimate test of courage and agony. That doesn’t mean that he hadn’t seen horrors or committed them, that he hadn’t struggled and suffered. I can only imagine the terrible toll, for example, on the troops sent out to clear enemy soldiers and unfortunate civilians from caves and hidden bunkers. Maybe Hod was afraid his story didn’t sound like what was portrayed in the newsreels and war movies. Maybe he didn’t think what he had experienced lived up to expectations of what war and heroism should look like. If that’s the case, his laconic version of the ferocious tank battle may have been a sort of cover story: a version of events that was more heroic — and relatable — than an actual truth he was afraid to tell. I think my grandfather wanted his damage to be known but couldn’t find the words to share the full truth, or couldn’t trust that friends and loved ones back home would understand.

The only truth I can feel certain of now is that Hod had once been a young man who went to war, and that he died an old man who never found a way to make peace with what he had experienced. I wish he had been able to tell the truth, because that’s how real healing and connection take root. Instead he remained trapped alone in his cover story. In discovering this about my grandfather, I encountered the man on a more human level: a man who was damaged and hurting — and ultimately, I now feel more closeness and connection with that man than I could possibly have felt for an untarnished hero of the battle for Kakazu Ridge.

I Grew Up Believing My Grandfather Was a War Hero. Army Records Said Otherwise.
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