A Veterans Day tribute to duty, honor and sacrifice

Mountaintop , PA

It’s been more than 13 years since the passing of my dad, John “Jack” Gothreau, who died in October 2001. In tribute to his memory and to all those who served in our nation’s conflicts I thought it worthwhile to share the experience of my dad’s family in World War II.

Five of 10 children would heed the call to service. Dad, as well as his brothers Chris and Eugene, went to the Pacific theater, while brother James was sent to France, and sister Marge served as a naval nurse stationed at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, N.H.

It is especially noteworthy to consider the time frame when they entered service. Tyranny was on the march with the forces of freedom bloodied and on their heels. My dad and his family, like thousands of others, put their lives on hold to serve when the nation was in peril. Ordinary people would be called upon to provide extraordinary sacrifice in order for future generations of Americans to have the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Two of the Gothreau siblings would make the ultimate sacrifice. One of the core realities of war is the violent death of young men, struck down in their prime with so much to look forward to. This was the case with James and Eugene who were killed in action less than a year apart.

A hedgerow is a line of closely planted shrubs and trees, intended to serve as a barrier. Sounds pretty mundane unless you were an infantryman in the vicinity of St. Lo France in July 1944. A vicious battle occurred between U.S. and German forces for the crossroads village of St. Lo, essential for the continued eastward advance of the allied offensive. On July 17, 1944, Pfc. James Gothreau was killed in the "Battle of the Hedgerows” near St. Lo. He left behind a wife and two young sons. One of those young sons, Andrew, would go on to graduate from West Point and serve with distinction in Vietnam, retiring from the Army a full colonel.

On April 11, 1945, signalman second class Eugene Gothreau was a crewman on the USS Kidd DD-661. The Kidd had seen significant action in the Pacific theater and was part of Task Force 58 on April 11, 1945, 90 miles east of Okinawa and a mere 11 miles from the Japanese shoreline. At mid-day, a kamikaze impacted the forward boiler, catapulting the plane’s bomb through the ship where it detonated seconds later. My uncle and 37 shipmates were killed and 55 were wounded. The following day the Kidd buried her dead at sea.

My dad returned from the war to employment with Brown Company Paper Mill in Berlin, N.H. He and my mother, Jeanne, would raise three sons, Mike, Ed and your humble author. Mike would later graduate from Boston College Law School in 1968, serving four years in the Air Force judge advocate corps. Dad would also join the local National Guard Battery retiring as a CWO3. In 1947 he was post commander of Ryan Scammon Post 36, Berlin, N.H.

His sister, Marge, moved to Pennsylvania, raised three children and worked in the nursing profession. His brother Chris left the Navy, eventually re-enlisting with the Army and serving in Korea and Vietnam.

In hindsight I would say dad had a very stoic attitude concerning the loss of his brothers. My recollection is he said very little about it and the war in general. He understood a horrible price was extracted from his family in order for freedom to endure. This one family’s loss was a reflection of the sacrifice shared by the entire American family during WWII.

On this Veterans Day, let us all pause to reflect on the duty, honor and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. Let us pledge never to glorify war, but to glorify the men and women who have served our great nation.

About the author: Steve Gothreau resides in Mountaintop, Pa., with his wife, Joan, and two children, Claire, 24, and Harry, 19. The former Army Airborne/Pathfinder is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire. He is employed in train and engine service with the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

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