Sunday, May 26, 2019

More than a picnic

Like most modern Americans, our family sees the Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer and a great time to crank up the barbeque, get out the picnic basket, and plan some family fun. Locally, the weekend also corresponds with the Silver Dollar Fair. We look forward to the fair, food, and fun, yet we know it’s tangential to the holiday’s true purpose.

"All gave some and some gave all." The flags in local cemeteries remind us of the sacrifices made by so many, and some flags fly over the graves of people we hold dear.

Arthur Aylworth, my father-in-law, was a married man in his thirties when the strike at Pearl Harbor plunged America into war. Through a combination of circumstances, he “did” boot camp for both the army and navy, finally serving as a radar technician for the Aaron Ward DM34, the third vessel to be known by that name.

For much of the war, he lived at home in San Francisco with my mother-in-law and my husband’s older brother. Then, almost at the war’s end, the Aaron Ward served in the conquest of Okinawa. During one horrific hour of combat, the Ward took six kamikaze strikes, lost nearly fifty men, and ended broken and flattened, its deck less than a yard above the waves. Art was on that ship’s first and last crew.

Hugh Hubbard, my father, graduated high school the spring after Pearl Harbor and fulfilled a contract he had already signed with the U.S. Forest Service before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He served as a radioman and rear gunner in small naval airplanes. Dad always brushed away any attention, flatly stating that he had spent the war sitting on a tiny spit of land in the south Pacific, untouched by the fighting.

In September 1999, our family gathered to celebrate my parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary. Sometime during the quiet afternoon following the party, there came a lull in the conversation. My dad said, “I landed on Funafuti on my twenty-first birthday.” 

While we listened in rapt attention, he told of the full moon that shone over the island that evening and the enemy planes that strafed the men as they dropped into foxholes dug into the coral. He concluded with the morning’s discovery of two men who had died.

My mother asked, “People died on Funafuti?” She’d been married to Dad for more than fifty years and this was the first she’d heard of casualties there. Once those floodgates opened, Dad began to share more and we all began to realize his full involvement in the war’s devastation.

Since our fathers served in World War II, we’ve known others who have fought in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. The politics behind some of the conflicts can be debated, but the effects on those who serve are often only too clear. Wives and mothers, families and friends, also bear some of those scars.

This weekend, while we visit the fair, crank up the barbeque, and gather with those we love, we will also be remembering those who served and those who suffered. We owe them all so much.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 18 published novels. Her latest is SUNNY'S SUMMER, a novel set in the Sierra foothills near her northern California home which examines the aftermath of the devastating #CampFire. She lives with her husband of 49 years, Roger, and one old, arthritic cat. She loves to hear from readers. Find her at, @SusanAylworth,, or Also on Pinterest and Instagram.


  1. Beautifully said, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Susan, thanks for sharing your family's military service.