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The battle for Okinawa in World War II began on April 1, 1945. In the ensuing eighty-two days, an estimated 150,000 civilians would die along with some 110,000 Japanese and 12,520 American soldiers. The Americans called it Operation Iceberg. The Japanese called it tetsu no bofu, the violent wind of steel.
Message from a Marine
To me it was a state of confusion and FEAR with shouted hysterical commands, screaming, shells exploding, darkness, and flame from flares and fire. I was there and I never saw the enemy but knew he was out there somewhere. Trying to kill us. I did not know what day it was, how high Sugar Loaf was, the caliber of artillery, the battle plan—which I knew was insane even as a PFC—regardless of what the asshole generals on both sides believed they knew from military school.
I fired at this dark hill that was scorched and smoking without having a target in my sights. I was a fucking sharpshooter who shot at rocks.
Dale—I hope you are still writing that same book that you talked about—“something that has never been done before.” Remember?
When your father and I, and the other kids walked, crawled, and stumbled down from Sugar Loaf with wounded minds that probably never healed, we did not know whether the cause was artillery blast or mortar shells. We were reduced to the point of insanity from the general horror and fear of Fucking war… Slobbering, crying, shaking, vomiting, pissing and shitting your pants, screaming, mumbling, trembling, swearing, FEAR FEAR FEAR FUCKING FEAR—combat fatigue my ass.
Fuck the deadlines and publisher’s demands, write a book that Steve and the rest [of] those wounded guys now gone would be proud of.
—e-mail from Joe Lanciotti, eighty-six years old, February 6, 2012
After Willis Robert Patterson died in York, South Carolina, on July 14, 1994, his son Robert opened his wallet. Inside Robert discovered a photograph of a man wearing a white T-shirt, standing with hands on his hips. The elder Patterson had carried the snapshot for nearly half a century and never told his son about it. The image was faded by years of wear, the face no longer recognizable. Blurred coconut palms and cone-shaped military tents formed a backdrop.
More than two thousand miles away, Steve Maharidge kept a yellowing picture of himself with that same man hanging in his garage. In it, the US marine wears a crook-brimmed hat with his arm casually thrown around Steve’s shoulders. Maharidge had kept it hanging where he would see it every day for decades. I know this because Steve Maharidge was my father.
Steve and Willis never met, but they were bonded by a picture of Herman Walter “Dick” Mulligan. Mulligan was Willis’s cousin, but he was more like a brother to him. Willis was desperate to know what had happened to him during the war. Though he didn’t tell his son about the picture, he had often talked about Dick Mulligan. When Robert was temporarily stationed at a Marine base on Okinawa en route to Vietnam in 1968, Willis had asked him to look for Dick’s grave there. But there was no grave. Mulligan’s body was listed as missing in action and “nonrecoverable.” It was a mystery.
My father, haunted by the death, knew exactly what had happened. But USMC Sergeant Steve Maharidge took that secret to his grave when he died on June 30, 2000.
Within days of Dad’s death, I began a quest to discover what occurred on May 30, 1945, and to locate and bring back Mulligan’s remains. Eighteen years later—on August 21, 2018—Mulligan got his twenty-one-shot salute and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, about one hundred meters from my father’s plot.
This book is the story about what happened in between, and how Mulligan finally came home.
It was a long journey.
The picture of Daddy with the man from the war is one of my earliest childhood memories.
It was set on the gas meter at adult eye level, in the furnace room of our house in a village south of Cleveland. Ours was no ordinary basement. It contained massive cast-iron machines that weighed about a half-ton each. My father ran a side business grinding industrial cutting tools down there. By day he worked in a distant factory, but most evenings he labored in the furnace room, where the picture was positioned so that he looked straight at it while he worked.
Around the age of twelve, I began grinding with my father. He sometimes talked about the war when the machines roared. I knew instinctively never to ask questions. I just listened. I never broke this unspoken rule. Dad mentioned that the picture was taken on Guadalcanal. Except for one other time, he said nothing else about it.
My father had a depth of anger. The majority of the time he was a great dad. Then he’d snap, and he temporarily became the worst. The domestic violence began before I was born. “Joan showed up at our door and she had no nose,” my maternal uncle Robert Kopfstein told me once of my mother. “He had hit her across the face with a lead pipe.” I too witnessed this violence. One day in 1960, when I was four, he struck my mother. I remember the blood on the black-and-white wool wall-to-wall carpet at the base of the stairs. Mother bandaged herself to stop the bleeding at her temple. The image of that ugly splotch coagulating on the carpet remained in my nightmares for years.
Decades later Mom told me that she had issued an ultimatum after that attack—she’d walk if that ever happened again. Yet Dad’s fury remained. My brother Darryl told me that our father had once slugged me, that there was blood everywhere. But I’d utterly blotted the incident from my memory.
When I study my baby pictures, taken by my father with an Argus C3 camera, I smile in every frame. As a toddler, I grin from ear to ear, bundled up and wearing a wool cap while playing next to my sister in our side yard on an Ohio winter day. I was clearly a happy kid. In later pictures—age eight, nine, ten—however, I’m frowning, intense. My father’s rage had become my own.
The photograph of Herman Walter Mulligan came to represent everything that I didn’t know about my father and the war, and the inferno that burned within him. It was a great gnawing mystery as I grew up.
After my father died, I began a quest to learn Mulligan’s fate. He represented something that had happened to Dad, and I needed to know what it was. Mulligan was like a ghost I grew up with.
I began locating the men who were with Dad in L Company, “Love Company” in the military jargon of the era. Love Company, part of the 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marines, Sixth Marine Division, fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Over the course of the ensuing twelve years I spent ceaseless hours making phone calls; I have no idea how many. It was surely in the multiple thousands. I sent out hundreds of letters. Many men had common names—you can’t begin to comprehend how many Robert Harrisons and A. Robertsons that I telephoned, all false leads. And there were those with complex names who appeared to have simply vanished. (A startling number died between 1946 and 1950, and though the database that I used to find their records didn’t give causes of death, I’d learn that many drank themselves into early graves.) I got hold of sobbing widows, children who were more troubled than I was by their late fathers’ war experience.
A majority of the men from Love Company were dead by the time I finished the first edition of this book in 2013—over two-thirds by a rough count, though I’ll never know for certain.
I conversed with twenty-nine guys from the unit and got to know half of them really well. What’s remarkable is that most of these men, nearing the end, were talking. Many had spent their lives like my father, shunning any discussion of the war. These were, in some cases, essentially deathbed confessions. I discovered a World War II story impossible to get for over a half a century. The silent generation was finally speaking in their octogenarian years.
I found six guys who were present when Mulligan died. One Love Company veteran told me I was the first person in sixty-five years whom he’d talked to about the incident—he’d carried Herman Walter Mulligan’s body that day. Why, then, was his body listed by the military as “not recovered”?
I fixated on finding his remains. The motto of the US Marines is semper fidelis, commonly shortened to “semper fi.” It means “always faithful” or “loyal”—never leave a buddy behind. But I can’t say that I was personally motivated by semper fi. I was never a soldier. I never heard my father utter those words. Yet he lived them by keeping Mulligan’s memory alive his entire life. So in essence, for my father, I was abiding by semper fi as I sought to bring Mulligan “home.” That would, I felt, put some of Dad’s demons to rest.
The years spent researching this book were at times traumatic. For a period in the middle, when my mother fell ill with cancer, I gave up. Frankly, a lot of the story is horrific. I would have slept better many nights had I left it alone.
But I was pulled back. I needed to write this book because World War II followed a lot of men home. Ignored in many “good war” narratives is what really happened overseas—and most important, what occurred after the men returned stateside. Many families lived with the returnee’s demons and physical afflictions. A lot of us grew up dealing with collateral damage from that war—our fathers. Yet this is not a “trash your father” memoir, if it is a memoir. (I loved my father. At his core he was a good man. I also love the guys from Love Company, except for one—why will become clear later.) This is a reported book, told from a personal perspective, about the repercussions of war. After unearthing what my father went through, I’m amazed that he wasn’t more damaged. He grew less crazy-tempered as he aged, and near the end I saw perhaps the man that might have existed before he set off for the Pacific.
I initially focused my quest on learning about the man in the picture with my father. My search broadened, however, as I came to know the men of Love Company. The picture that I was obsessed with as a boy turned out to be the vehicle that propelled me on a journey toward something much larger, albeit fitting to the task of honoring the memory of Mulligan: an understanding of that war, and of my father. When I signed off on the first edition of this book in 2013, I was satisfied with that conclusion.
Yet I struggled to accept the fact that I’d failed to literally bring Mulligan home.
On May 31, 2013, I did one of the final media spots to support the first edition of this book. I was on the nineteenth floor of a building housing a National Public Radio studio, across from Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan, doing a pretaped interview via studio uplink for the show Here & Now. I told the host at WBUR in Boston about the e-mails, Facebook messages, handwritten letters—coming at a rate of about two per day—that I’d been getting from the children of World War II combat veterans. A week earlier a woman had e-mailed to say that her father had suffered nightmares that left him screaming—he’d ended those bad dreams by committing suicide in 1961. Another woman, Marie Browning, wrote that her father had served in the Battle of Guadalcanal and left that island with a damaged brain. At about age five, Marie witnessed her father severely beat her older sister. He chose to have a lobotomy to quell his fits of rage. At least two thousand veterans were given this “treatment” in the 1940s and 1950s.
“A preacher who knew my parents before Dad had his lobotomy spoke at my dad’s funeral,” Marie wrote. “He talked about how Dad made his choice to have the lobotomy, knowing what the outcome would be, because he loved us, and was afraid of hurting us. That is the one and only time I heard any kind of reference of love and my dad in the same context. After reading your account I began to wonder which of us was better off, you experiencing the constant, very real threat of rage from your dad or me experiencing no hope of emotional expression from mine. I quickly came to the conclusion that neither of us was better off.” Marie signed the e-mail, “Your sister in experience.”
I answered each person. I told most of them that “we are all sons and daughters of the same father.”
That evening after the WBUR interview, I flew to California, returning to my remote home overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Lost Coast. My nearest neighbor was half a mile across a canyon.
I’d spent a dozen years trying to bring Mulligan home. I needed to hide out. I was utterly spent.
The eight-and-a-half minute Here & Now piece aired on June 13, 2013. That night, when I logged into e-mail on a tenuous connection from a Verizon tower perched atop a mountain ten miles inland, I found this message:
I enjoyed your interview today on an NPR program I happened to catch. As you mentioned in your recounting of your father’s inexplicable rage—and the many children of WWII vets who experienced the same—I suppose that I can be added to that group as well. When you talked about this, it stopped me in my tracks and took me back to my own childhood.
More importantly, for the past forty years I have been honing my skills as a family historian and “hometown” genealogist. I’m pretty good at finding people and have helped many friends and acquaintances to discover their roots and their ancestors.
The name Herman Mulligan intrigued me because through DNA research my brother and I have learned that our “Carroll” last name is probably a derivative of Mulligan. Our Y-DNA matches most closely a man by the name of Mullikin from the 1820s in northern Ireland. Our great-great-grandfather appears to be, as they say in the biz, the product of a non-paternal “event.”
Do you have any interest still in learning more about the Herman Mulligan of whom you have written? I’d be happy to take a look through the many resources that I use to see if I can come up with any further information than you have already uncovered.
I love this stuff and I love a mystery. It would be great to make a go at it. No guarantees, but of course no charge or fee of any kind. I get satisfaction from the journey and in the attempt to see what I can find.
I accepted her offer in a brief reply, but I privately gave it zero chance of being successful. I had tried to get in touch with his relatives during my research to learn more about Mulligan and find people with whom I could share what I’d learned. I’d made hundreds of phone calls to his extended family in the Carolinas and sent two-hundred and fifty letters to people who might have been kinfolk to his aunt, Ruth Owens Patterson. I knew she’d been married to Heyward Parker Patterson and had three sons: Willis, Ernest, and James. But I had no luck.
I quickly forgot about Bridget’s e-mail and threw myself into the tasks of maintaining my remote refuge: chainsawing, splitting wood, and doing other off-grid chores.
What was about to begin, however, was akin to what happens when the late summer winds blow west over the top of Africa. After picking up the fine red sands of the Sahara that make these winds visible from outer space, they seed hurricanes over the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean that eventually strike the eastern seaboard of the United States. It was as if I’d kicked up the dust by creating this book—other people carried those seeds forward and would churn them into a hurricane. That e-mail from Bridget was the first step in the formation of a team of amateurs, connected by the Internet, who set in motion the chain of events that led to the US government exhuming and identifying the body of Herman Walter Mulligan. As one of our group, Jean Patterson, said about us: “Sometimes, when you least expect it, people you need in your life suddenly appear out of nowhere.”
This ragtag crew covered a range of the American experience, from right to left: One voted for Donald Trump; another had been a hippie poet in the 1960s. It wasn’t about politics. It was all about what one of them deemed “the mission.” It was about doing the right thing. These people, whom I would not meet in person for years, carried me across the finish line.
Winter Night, 1965
The bed upon which I lie is on the second floor of a split-level house at the crest of the final hill of the Allegheny Plateau in Ohio, where the rolling eastern land of North America ceases and is disgorged on the flatness of the Great Plains. Our house takes the brunt of storms. Wind masses against the panes, and icy snow strikes the glass: click-click, click-click. There’s a squeak, like that of a rusty hinge, from the American elm in our front yard, with its crossed limbs that rub on windy nights such as this. And there is the Cincinnati Number 2 grinding machine, a two-ton hulk of iron in the basement two floors below, its motor straining as the sandstone wheel rams into a steel tool, which means sparks are showering over Daddy’s shoulders like the trail of a Roman candle, the machine sounding a steadily deepening hawwwww! Moments later, the heating duct delivers a burst of steel smoke.
Clicking, squeaking, hawwwwwing! These sounds—and the occasional screams of Daddy. Something is always going wrong. There’s the clang of a big wrench hurled against a machine.
Daddy is doing the very same work as he does by day at Cleveland Twist Drill, the nation’s premier manufacturer of industrial cutting tools—drills, end mills, slab mills, all made from specially hardened steel. The most common, end mills, are like a drill that cuts down as well as sideways; they have anywhere from two to eight flutes, and they range from an eighth of an inch to two inches in diameter. They sink dies in softer steel used to stamp out car fenders and myriad other modern items. They cut metal and plastic parts. Daddy grinds their edges and bottoms to razor keenness. His nighttime side business is to resharpen this dulled tooling that can be used many times over by “job shops,” companies that machine steel all over the Cleveland area.
From my father’s labors, steel dust mists through the house. No matter how hard Mom cleans, a finger run along any upstairs surface shows gray. Steel dust is embedded in the cracks beyond the reach of mother’s diligent scrubbing. It is in our marrow.
Our village of North Royalton, with its slogan, “High on a Friendly Hill” and spread across twenty-one square miles, has just over five thousand residents. Joan and Steve Maharidge were pioneering white-flight suburbanites, having left the South Side of Cleveland. They built this house the year I was born, 1956, with their own hands, on the site of an apple orchard and truck farm.
There is one traffic light north of our front door. Just beyond is a red-brick city hall and a town square patterned after those in New England. On the southeast corner is the sole tavern, Harry and Berny’s, which the town fathers longed to close down. Then Berny placed a sign in the window, “Come in and get high on a friendly hill.” This caused further outrage; it was the sole seditious act ever to occur in North Royalton in all of my youth. Up the street is Dr. Sandargas, a Victorian man in a Victorian office filled with dusty glasswares, who makes house calls—he came when I had scarlet fever. There’s a hardware store whose owner, Gene, dispenses limitless free advice. A right turn at the light: Ukrainian Savings and Loan, a Slavic cooperative that lent our family $11,000 to build the house; Lawson’s, a milk store; Mr. Eleck’s musical instrument shop; Lenny, the barber; the Western Auto; the Eagle Market; the Searles and Bassett Funeral Home; and that is about it.
This is some of which can be told about our village, but what interests me are its vast blocks of woods. They exist behind our backyard, where the land gives way to a ravine with a cold brook slicing through Devonian shale rock on its way to the flatlands. The woods, owned by someone unknown, are my refuge when our house erupts. A trifle can set it off, such as one of us kids accidentally spilling a glass of water at the dinner table; Daddy will lose it, start screaming, setting off a chain of events; Mom will start screaming back at him because she, in her own way, is as tough as he; us kids yelling. There is no understanding this anger. It simply exists.
I fall asleep to the sound of the Cincinnati Number 2 motor winding down.
From two thousand rotations per minute, to hundreds, an incremental cessation of wheels and pulleys and brushes and copper windings. The odor of molten plastic bubbling in a chicken cooker, as Daddy dips freshly sharpened tools to protect the edges for transport. His hands are spat-marked from boiling plastic, and steel dirt blackens his cuticles, impossible to wash away. His hands are slashed from wounds in various stages of healing, inflicted by the razor-sharp tools and the wheels that sometime explode in the middle of a hawwwww!, spraying sandstone shrapnel, punching holes in the ceiling, tearing flesh.
I sometimes imagined him as I had often seen him, sitting on a stool near the quieted machine, staring at a picture from the war. A lanky man has an arm around Daddy. The man wears a .45 caliber sidearm and a crook-brimmed railroad cap. Daddy and the man are smiling.
Quiet now, save for the wind and the mournful note of the elm. Night terrors—
Daddy’s snow shovel scrapes driveway gravel like a spoon against a burned pot bottom. The clock says 5 a.m. I rise to my knees and peer out the window. Daddy is hunched, dark against the whiteness. The snow races horizontal against the light atop a utility pole. The car idles, steam emerging from the mouth of the open garage. The car will wait another half hour of digging. My father, knee deep in a drift, slings leaden slush thrown by the village-operated street plows at the road.
Snow compressed beneath the tires sounds like mouse chatter as the car carries my father away, down white roads to a cavernous plant that swallows his daylight hours, a realm of sparks and dust where he grinds steel on machines like those in the basement. Becoming an adult means going to a job in the dark and cold, coming home in the dark and cold. Growing up means sparks and unquenchable anger. Growing up means going to war.
The home at 798 Starkweather Avenue on Cleveland’s South Side was one story and narrow, its length barely fitting on the small lot, which had a brief front yard of bare mineral earth. It consisted of five tiny rooms—three bedrooms, a living room, a dining/kitchen area—for most of my father’s youth. A fourth bedroom and kitchen were later added.
Dimitro Maharidge and his wife, Anastasia, “Esther,” raised eight children in the house. Their second-to-last biological child, born in 1925, was Steve.
Through the 1930s the bathroom was a backyard outhouse. The home was heated by a pot-belly stove. The family bathed in a zinc wash tub set on the kitchen/dining floor using water heated on the stove. Sometimes they were provided charity coal. Other times they used old railroad ties that Dimitro got for free from his job on the Baltimore and Ohio. A chore for the boys was to cut the ties into logs with a two-man crosscut saw and then split the short pieces. Dimitro worked two, maybe three days per week during the Depression; that and church-donated food kept them from starving.
The house was just up the street from St. Theodosius, the Russian Orthodox church with its thirteen onion domes sheathed in copper weathered to a green patina. It was perched on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley and overlooked the mills. (Years later it was used for the wedding scene in Michael Cimino’s film, The Deer Hunter.) It was visible from everywhere in the valley bottom, a black-iron world of blast furnaces, rolling operations, coal-coking batteries, Rockefeller’s oil refineries, steel bridges. The onion globes towered above all the Starkweather houses.
Dimitro and Esther journeyed separately to Cleveland from the old country. Dimitro first worked in a coal mine in Pennsylvania. He was lured to Ohio by John Maharidge, a cousin who was instrumental in forming the Russian community on Cleveland’s South Side after he arrived in 1895. He held a meeting in his home to plan what became St. Theodosius. It was constructed in 1911 and 1912, funded in part by Nicholas II, the last tsar; its design was based on a famous church in Moscow. Financing came from immigrants who bought lots from the church. They built houses and opened a Russian school.
- "Gripping and unforgettable-a son's search for his father in the shattered ruins of the Pacific War"—Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes
- "Through deep and sensitive interviewing, Dale Maharidge has achieved what many have previously thought impossible: he has opened up the "silent generation" of World War Two veterans and enabled them to tell their stories. These veterans, US marines and Japanese who met as enemies in the Pacific, are no mythologized heroes or villains, but flesh-and-blood humans describing the true horror that has always been, and always will be, war. Maharidge enables these survivors to speak of the war with such honesty that they strip away all its glamour, break your heart and win it all at once. Part memoir, part vivid history, part a searing examination of war trauma, Bringing Mulligan Home gives us an entirely fresh look at "The Good War" that may well change our view of it forever."—Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq and Sand Queen
- "A moving memoir. . .A powerful narrative of the dark side of American combat in the Pacific theater and the persistence of resulting injuries decades after the war ended."—Kirkus
- On Sale
- May 21, 2019
- Page Count
- 384 pages