Home > Uncategorized > Donald Loftus 1924/2013 RIP

Donald Loftus 1924/2013 RIP

My Mother lost her brother last week. Donald Loftus died at the age of 89. His last few years were not easy ones. If there was justice in the world they would have been,

He enlisted to serve in WWII at the age of 16….although family legend has it that he was really 15 and got away with it because he was so earnest. Regardless, he was a child. When I as 15 I had to be home before it got dark. Donald was given a rifle and sent to the Philippines.

He was captured by the Japanese and somehow survived the Bataan Death March, He spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp, where he was subjected to unspeakable cruelties. War crimes. Horrors that no amount of time could possibly erase. At the end of the war when he was liberated he weighed 88 pounds.

Donald with my wife Karla

When he received his back pay (for his time as a prisoner), he used it to send his parents to Florida on a vacation. I never knew he did this. His eldest son mentioned it in a gorgeous eulogy he gave today at the funeral. I’m sure Donald has friends for 30 or 40 or 50 years who never knew he was a POW either. The Greatest Generation didn’t feel the need to talk about the things they’d done, or the things that had been done to them. Or the fact that they sent their parents on what may have been the only vacation of their lives. Never has a generation been more aptly named. Donald was once asked to lead folks in the Pledge of Allegiance and at once grew suspicious. “Why me?” he asked. “Because we wanted a war hero” he was told. “Well, go find one then”, Donald said. And that was that.

Parks and highways are named after crooked politicians. “Welcome to” signs for small towns tout them as “home of” somebody who could throw a football or baseball. We built marble statues of high school football coaches and granite busts of actors. Nobody names anything for quiet, heroic men like Donald Loftus. There will be no statues. No marble busts. He’ll live on in the memories of his 7 children and his 23 grandchildren. My Mom and her brother Frankie are the last 2 Loftus siblings. Two out of thirteen. He lives on with them. And us nieces and nephews. And the many friends he made. He lives on with us. But still, I can’t help but think he’s getting shortchanged. He’d certainly disagree with me. The last thing he’d want is somebody making a fuss over him. He never believed what he did was extraordinary. His country needed him and he went. His parents and his brothers and sisters needed him and he survived hell to get back home to them. His wife and children needed him, and there’s nothing more heroic than being a good husband and father.

If that’s not somebody worthy of recognition I’m not sure who is.

There’s a picture our family has. Somebody sent it to my father in the mail years ago. It was published in “Stars and Stripes” during the war. The Red Cross was allowed into POW camps, where they could collect names and serial numbers of the prisoners and send postcards home to the families. It meant “your son is still alive”. That’s all. No other details were permitted.

Something about this photo haunted my father. The men were lined up…and in the front row was a boy. He looked like a mascot. They all stared impassively into the camera. These men were all in their early 20s….but looked much older. Haunted. Emaciated. But not without a certain dignity. And this boy….his eyes burned. Like the men behind him he didn’t look mean. He didn’t look defeated. He didn’t even look defiant. I want to find some sort of flowery word here…but nothing is coming. He looked tough. I’ll settle for that.

My Dad thought it was Donald. It was the equivalent of a needle in a haystack. How many prisoners? How many photos? Everybody tried to talk him out of it. Dad was as stubborn as a Loftus (he married one after all) and kept writing letters. To the Army. To all sorts of government agencies. It took years. But finally. The men in the picture were identified. The boy in front was 16 years old. It was Donald Loftus. POW. The picture was taken at Christmas time. A propaganda attempt by the Japanese.

I was in the room when my Dad showed Donald that picture. It was maybe 20 years ago. Maybe less. It felt like I was intruding so I left. I have no idea what my Uncle said after seeing the photo. I never asked him about it. I never asked my Dad about it either. I regret that now.

What a moment that must have been. Two of the greatest generation…sharing a moment in time. And one saying, for sure, something like, “it was no big deal Joe. Have I told you about my latest grandchild? He’s gonna be a ringer…”

Men like this just can’t be replaced. The world seems a lesser place without them in it.

If you’re in that room with them, don’t walk out.

In a bit..

–tf

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