Saturday, May 7, 2011 - It's not just another day on the calendar...at least not for me. It was 66 years ago, on May 7, 1945, that my father, Private First Class Ralph Lowell Coleman, thirty-two years of age, died in Tripler General Hospital (as it was known at the time), near Honolulu, Hawaii, of wounds received in action in the Pacific Area during World War II. It was several days before the "official" telegram from the War Department was delivered to my mother. In the meantime, a letter, dated May 14, 1945, was delivered to her from the Army chaplain who was present when Dad died.
"It is indeed with regret that I must write to you of the death of your husband, PFC Ralph Coleman, 35297946. He passed away at 3:46 PM on the 7th day of May, 1945, at Tripler General Hospital, APO 95, San Francisco, California.
"The cause of death was (1) wound, penetrating, severe, left temporal, parietal, lobe of brain, with inflammation; (2) meningitis, basilar, acute; (3) fracture of the skull, multiple, compound, with defect, left temporal parietal.
"He was laid to rest in the Post Cemetery, Schofield Barracks, Oahu, T.H., on the 12th day of May, 1945. The cemetery is a very beautiful one and is well cared for by the Army. The flag was at half-mast during the burial ceremony.
"The funeral was conducted by Chaplain Henry C. Pennington. His text was taken from Revelation 14:13, 'And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.' He read, too, St. Luke's Gospel, Chapter 7, verses 11-16. Two songs were sung: The Twenty-Third Psalm, and Now The Laborer's Task Is O'er. The organ was played during the entire service.
"Six sprays of flowers were given by friends and by the Grey Ladies of the American Red Cross. The pall-bearers were friends of the Armed Forces. May I assure you that the entire ceremony was carried out in a most dignified and reverent manner.
"Chaplain Pennington, at the grave-side, read the committal prayer after which the firing squad fired eighteen rounds. 'Taps' were then sounded and your husband's body was laid to rest.
"Mrs. Coleman, I prayed with your husband several times during his illness at our hospital. All that human hands could do was done to save his life, but since death was inevitable, I am sure you will be comforted in knowing that he was cared for in such a manner. I stayed by his side and prayed silently as he departed. He went away peacefully.
"Hawaii's skies were blue during your husband's burial service. Even the birds were singing in the nearby trees. The land of his soul is now cloudless and clear. His last battle is over.
"May the love of God fill the vacant place in your heart, is my sincere prayer for you, at this time.
James M. Becker, Major, Chaplain, USA"
On May 25th, Dad's name appeared in the Urbana Daily Citizen (Urbana, Ohio) for the last time. The headline across the very top of the page proclaimed "County Soldier Dies of War Wounds...PFC Ralph Coleman Is Victim." The accompanying article covered the full right side of the newspaper.
In the weeks to come, his personal effects were shipped home to Mom: an old wallet he had carried for a long period of time which contained an Indian Head penny dated 1865, Mom's photo, and a wad of currency which had been issued by the Japanese during their occupation of the Philippine Islands. There were letters which Mom had written to him, and other bits and pieces of their short married life together.
Mom replaced the Blue Star flag which had been displayed in the living room window with the Gold Star flag, indicating a soldier who had been killed in the war. A poem from the time became one of her keepsakes:
"I looked out from my window, And in the sky afar, A tiny ship at anchor, There shone a Golden Star. Tis a lamp set in his window, A light unto my feet, Both he and I are waiting Until we two shall meet. My 'Star of Hope' so precious, I call this Golden Star. It shineth in my sorrow, My loved one, lost in war."
(from "My Star of Hope," author unknown).
With Mom's permission, Dad's body was moved from the Old Post Cemetery at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and re interred on February 19, 1949, in the new National Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, with full military honors. He rests there today, in Plot O-480, among his comrades.
On September 18, 1976, in fulfillment of a promise I made to her in 1956, when I was eleven years old, Mom stood by that grave site for the first and only time in her life, accompanied by my wife, sons Ralph Lowell III ("Chip") and Jared, and me. Just a few days later, on October 8, 1976, my son Tad Jeffrey Coleman, was born at Tripler Army Hospital, near Honolulu, the very hospital where Dad died in 1945.
So, Saturday, May 7, 2011, is not just another day for me. It's special...and I will observe it in memory of my Dad.