I learned this week that my late mother’s brother, Charles J. Roy, passed away after a long illness. He had been living with his wife, Frances, in Menifee, Calif., the state where he had moved in the mid-1950s. His son and daughter, Charles Jr. and Maureen, are in California with their families. He grew up in the Centralville neighborhood of Lowell, St. Louis de France parish, with two brothers and three sisters. He was the middle son, and the last of the brothers alive. The three of them served in World War II. Charles joined the Marines soon after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese pilots. Somewhere in my files, I have an extensive newspaper account of Charles’s heroism in the Pacific fighting. I can’t find it now, but I did find an excerpt that I used in a longer unfinished essay, “The War of the Uncles,” which I started writing a few years ago. There was also a 5 x 7 black-and-white news photo of him being awarded medals in his hospital bed while he was recovering from serious wounds. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s with a pile of first cousins, the reality of our fathers having served in the military during WWII was dramatic. The older I get, the more remarkable the bravery of young men and women of that time from Lowell and everywhere seems to me. When we were kids, that war wasn’t so long ago, say, 15 years from 1960, when I was six. That would be the same distance as the year 2000 now. After the war, Charles returned to Lowell, took college classes, and went to work as a salesman. He had seen the West Coast as a U.S. Marine, and, like a lot of New Englanders, got it in his head that California really was “the golden state.” I recall that he was a salesman for Shasta soda for a while. He raised his family there with my aunt Lorraine, later married again, and then worked for a long time in the racetrack industry. The following passage is from my essay in progress. It was the first thing I could put my hands on when I decided to write about my uncle. I last saw him probably 20 years ago. My cousins and I in the Lowell area really drifted away from the two families of California cousins, the second being the childen of my uncle Francis or Frank and aunt “Connie.” Charles, or Uncle Chuck as we called him, was very good to me when I was studying in a master’s program in creative writing at the University of California, Irvine, in the early 1980s. He was my link to the extended family when I hit the Pacific coast.—PM
From The War of the Uncles:
From the Pacific came a report about my uncle Charles: “At the base of Mount Auger on Guam, the 21-year-old Marine corporal had moved to outflank Japanese machine-gunners who had pinned down his entire company. His squad scrambled over volcanic rock and tropical stubble on the back slope. Men cut by saber-grass knew not to cry out. After climbing for four hours, Corporal Roy and his men came up behind the enemy trenches. The Marine riflemen drove the defenders into the open, but two counter-flanking Japanese nearly surprised the Americans. Roy said, ‘The motion the grenade-thrower had to make to knock his grenade against his helmet to set off the charge—that was what saved me. I had enough rifle training to be able to unlock my rifle in that instant to get it up and fire four rounds. I got both of them.’” With the fight boiling, my uncle dug a foxhole on the spot and spent the night near a dead Japanese soldier. Making his way back to a rest station two days later, he was wounded by an artillery shell. He and 600 other wounded Marines received their Purple Heart medals in a ceremony at a military hospital that was attended by seven generals and seven admirals.