78 years ago, everything changed

War, to paraphrase the words of my friend Al Kridlo on the night he learned his son Dale had been killed in battle in Afghanistan, has a way of changing everything.
It certainly did for the Ackermans of White Haven.
My dad was, as he put it, sleeping off a hangover in his bunk at Schofield Barracks, about 15 miles from Pearl Harbor, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 78 years ago today.
He wasn’t much to talk about the four years he spent fighting in the Pacific with the 25th Division, nicknamed “Tropical Lightning,” and never said a single word about how he had won The Bronze Star, as the citation, which is hanging on the wall next to me, says β€œon or about January 10, 1943,” but he did talk about that morning in Honolulu.
Until that morning, my dad had led a charmed life in the U.S. Army. Being stationed on the island of Oahu helped. He had grown up on a farm in White Haven, Pennsylvania, where he and his brothers actually pulled the plow in the fields before his dad could afford a horse, which actually turned out to be a broken down mule from the coal mines. He’d lied about his age to join the Army, mostly to get away from that farm. But he knew he’d eventually return and spend the rest of his life tilling fields.
The Ackermans had always been farmers going back to their ancestors in Germany. “Acker” in old German meant “acre” or “field,” so the Ackermans, even by name, were attached to the land.
A strong, raw-boned teen, my dad was made an Army boxer which meant he drew no duty assignments. All well and good, but he often joked that the Japanese saved his life because he was scheduled to fight a heavyweight champ who “would have knocked my block off.”
My dad’s language was, let’s say, colorful, and he said his first thought when he heard all those planes on Sunday morning was, “Those G-D Navy guys have to do maneuvers on Sunday morning?”
Minutes later, he learned the racket had nothing to do with Navy guys, G-D or otherwise.
The only good news about Pearl Harbor, according to my dad, was that the land invasion everyone was certain would come after the air attack never did. “If that land invasion came, they would have overrun us,” he said, describing how he and his mates were dispatched to stand at the ready, waist-deep in the ocean, some with World War I vintage weapons they weren’t sure would even fire.
My dad, Howard Ackerman, would spend the next four years fighting in the Pacific from island to island. He lived the horrors described in the Bill O’Reilly book “Killing the Rising Sun.” He would be 50 pounds lighter by the time the war ended.
It was only then that he learned he had three fewer brothers. One, Elmer, had died in a car crash at home, but two others, Edward and Rudolph, had been killed in action in Europe. Edward, my namesake, in the Battle of the Bulge. His youngest brother, Herman, who was in the Navy, survived.
He also found out that with no sons to help run the farm, his father had sold his land and took up railroading. By the time my dad was discharged, his parents lived not in the White Haven farmhouse where he was born and grew up, but in half a double in West Pittston to be close to the trains at Coxton Yards.
As it had for many families, World War II changed everything. The Ackermans were farmers no more.

Ed Ackerman