(The following is an article written by Robert Edward Montgomery about his “missing” father, Edward Raymond Montgomery, who was a veteran of both the U.S. Navy during peacetime and the U.S. Army during World War II. Raymond or “Ray” Montgomery saw action at Pearl Harbor, where 2,403 service personnel and civilians were killed. Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on that naval facility.)
by ROBERT E. MONTGOMERY
I grew up in a family without a father.
Why he left us when I was a baby and waited 32 years to contact me remains a mystery. Why he developed into the person he became, I can only still surmise.
I learned after his death facts that led me to the conclusion that he was a loving, caring, honorable person who really loved his family. What led to his mental disturbance that took him from me? How my respect for him was finally expressed through a gesture made by his great-grandson 70 years later? As you read this tale, please be aware that my dad was a victim of an atrocity that affected an entire nation and countless people, including me.
My dad was born Edward Raymond Montgomery, the son of Lawrence John Montgomery and Jessie Pearl Williams Montgomery on January 6, 1910, at the family home in Jackson County, Indiana.
His great-grandfather, John Montgomery, was a Civil War veteran, Co. B, 82nd Reg., Indiana Vol. Edward’s great-grand uncle William was a Civil War casualty. William is buried in the Montgomery Family Cemetery in Jennings County, Indiana. Edward had ancestors that served in the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.
Following in his ancestors’ footsteps, Edward, whose nickname was Ray, joined the U.S. Navy on December 27, 1926. He took basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station, Chicago, Il. He then served aboard the U.S.S. Nevada (BB36), U.S.S. Sarasota (CV3), U.S.S. Colorado (BB45) td, U.S.S. Rochester (CA2) td, U.S.S. Kanawha (AO1) td and the U.S.S. Texas (BB35). While aboard the U.S.S. Texas, he participated in the Blue Jacket Operations off the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Sea. Thus, he became a veteran of foreign wars.
When his ship returned to its homeport, Annapolis, Md., in December, 1929, authorities discovered that Ray had lied about his age when he enlisted in the Navy, and he was discharged. To enlist without a parent’s signature, he had given his birthdate as 1909 instead of 1910. His discharge date was January 3, 1930. I have his original discharge document from the U.S.S. Texas.
Edward returned to Indiana and settled in Indianapolis where he was employed by my Grandfather Mullin, who was in the roofing, heating and sheet metal fabrication business. While on the job, Edward, now called by his middle name Raymond, met my mother, Dorothy Mullin, who was 18. They were married on October 1, 1932.
The post-Depression days of the 1930s were desperate times for the labor force of the nation. There were no jobs anywhere. Food lines were common across the U.S. There was little or no contracting work for Grandfather Mullin’s business. Raymond was married, without a job, with a baby on the way, me.
I was born on October 5, 1933. We lived upstairs in a house owned by a friend of my grandparents a block east of the tin shop. Times were hard. How was a man with little or no work experience besides those skills learned in the U.S. Navy going to earn a living as a civilian?
I still don’t know for sure the real reason for my dad’s departure from our family in mid-1936. Years later, after hearing stories from relatives who knew him, I concluded his act may have been the results of intense thought, good reasoning and a sense of responsibility.
Dad deserted Mom and me in Indianapolis and joined the Army. My efforts to obtain Ray’s service records were a dead end. A response from the Department of Defense stated that his records could not be found and were assumed lost by fire.
What Raymond accomplished by his action was to obtain for himself an income and provide my mother with a military dependents’ check, which arrived monthly for the next 16 years. Under the circumstances, this was an unselfish, wise and thoughtful decision.
Throughout the years, I often wondered about my dad. Was he dead or alive? If living, why had he not contacted me?
Finally, the day arrived and we met. It was in October, 1968, in Indianapolis. Raymond was passing through. Mom called me at school and asked if I could get out of teaching classes and have lunch with him, that he would like to see me. This was the only time in my life I was ever to meet and visit with him.
We met him at the downtown hotel where he was staying. Holding tightly to the stair rail, Raymond descended the wooden stairs to the dingy hotel lobby slowly and meticulously. I was uneasy. Perhaps he was, too.
He was a gaunt, seemingly very old man, weighing no more than 90 pounds. His face was weather-beaten with a ruddy complexion tinged with a slight, jaundiced hue. His eyes were dark and deep set. His thinning white hair was combed straight back. Slightly bent at the waist, he shuffled along with an unstable gait in badly worn shoes. He needed a shave but was otherwise clean and neat, yet his clothes fit loosely and hid an obviously bony, weakened body. His status was clearly derelict.
At this meeting, he was 58 years old. He looked 90. I was 33.
I hope to this day that I didn’t show him any disrespect or rudeness during our visit. I was in total disarray; I didn’t know whether to hug him, shake hands or what. I am not sure what I expected him to be like. I don’t remember what I really expected. What I saw, however, wasn’t what I was expecting. We sat on the dusty overstuffed motel lobby couch and exchanged small talk briefly, then left to cross over to a cafeteria where we had lunch.
During our meal, he mentioned several things about working for my grandfather at the tin shop. He said Grandpa Mullin was a fine man, and I was lucky to have come from such a fine family.
He offered me a watch as a gift for his granddaughter Wendy, then age six. I refused the gift. In retrospect, I hope that I did not offend him. It just seemed out of place. I recognize now that it was a gift from the heart, and I had denied him that little bit of solace which comes as acceptance when a gift id offered and acceptance.
Outside the cafeteria, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. We hadn’t made much eye contact during our visit. He seemed to be somewhere else during our visit, which had lasted about two hours.
That was the first and last time I ever saw my father. During our visit, he never mentioned his military career or any of his life experiences. No mention was made of his family, the Montgomerys, and they remained a mystery to me for another 14 years. No mention of where he had been or where he was going. He surely had lived an adventurous life but did not share any of it with me.
I often thought of contacting him. Since he had no permanent address, I didn’t know where to reach him, so that idea was tabled. I rationalized my attitude, but I always thought it should be his decision to come back into my life if he chose to do so. I was probably wrong in this assumption.
I never in my wildest imaginings could have dreamed of what might have been the cause of Raymond’s physical and mental condition. Having never walked in his shoes, I could not know. I was not to discover some of his inner-most secrets until 14 years had passed.
In 1983, I was raising teenaged twin sons and owned a Schwinn Bicycle store on Indianapolis’ east side. It was winter; business was non-existent. The depression of 1979 had dissolved the bicycle business in our community. I had a world of time on my hands and thought of Ray, wondering where he might be. If I was ever to contact him, now was the time.
I contacted the Veterans Administration, asking that a letter I enclosed be forwarded to him. The reply stated that Robert A. Carey, Raymond’s adopted name, was deceased. He had died on October 26, 1976, in a veterans hospital in Reno, Nevada, several days after being admitted. His diagnostic chart revealed score of vital health problems. I had waited too long.
The story doesn’t end here. The VA notified me in their reply letter that his next of kin listed in Ray’s file was an older sister, Beulah Parlow of Detroit, Mi. “What?” I didn’t know I had an aunt who was a Montgomery. My mother, who suffered from mental dementia most of my adolescent and adult life, was silent on the subject.
I telephoned Aunt Beulah and her opening comment after I introduced myself was, “Bobby, I never thought I would hear from you.” My reply, filled with surprise and respect, was something like, “Well, I never knew I had an Aunt Beulah.” I was 48 years old.
My surviving aunt and several first cousins lived in Shelbyville, about 15 miles southeast of Indianapolis. These relatives became a source of information about my father. I also contacted Aunt Mary, widow of Raymond’s younger brother, Jimmy, who also lived in Shelbyville. We had a family reunion to meet and become acquainted. They were excited that a new member of the family had “…come out of the woodwork.”
The Montgomerys of Shelbyville were fine, hard-working, grassroots people. As I met my cousins, the stories about their “Uncle Ray” began to surface. Uncle Ray had visited them and stayed in touch throughout the years. Their stories answered a lot of my questions about my father.
What I would learn explained my dad’s physical and mental problems and how he developed into the person he became.
After joining the Army in 1937, Raymond was attached to a unit stationed at Pearl Harbor. Perhaps his earlier seaman experience helped him become involved in the liaison between the Army and Navy at Pearl. His job put him in the heat of the battle when Japan’s planes came over the hill early on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Remember, Raymond was raised in a very small farm town in Southern Indiana where he cared for pigs, chickens and a cow or two. The most blood he ever saw was when he cleaned game from a hunt. There was no carnage of the sort to which he was exposed at Pearl Harbor.
According to my cousins, Ray was a member of the crew given the responsibility of identifying and burying casualties of the attack on Pearl. The only other information passed on to me was the comment, “Uncle Ray was never the same after that experience.”
Edward Raymond Montgomery was given a medical discharge from the Army in August, 1942. From that day on, only nine months after his experiences at Pearl Harbor, he was an out-patient in the Veterans Administration hospital system. He needed intermittent mental therapy for the rest of his life. He sought admittance whenever he was in need.
I never considered myself a victim of World War II. I remember hearing President Roosevelt on the radio give his famous “Day of Infamy” speech after Pearl Harbor and seeing some newspaper headlines about the war in Europe.
What could a six-year-old child ever know about the atrocities of war?
I always felt owed Raymond something. he was my father. After learning of his fate, I felt I owed him something more than just a passing thought. perhaps it was guilt for not having him in my life when he may have needed a son to lean on. Perhaps it was out of admiration because he made the supreme sacrifice without having died. Perhaps inside every son there exists the genetic affinity for a male parent. Whatever the reason, I am proud of Raymond and, in some way, still have a desire to express it.
There is a sequel to this story which makes me very proud and emotional. It involves my grandson, Austin, my clone, so to speak.
I am proud of my twin sons, Greg and Brad, whom I raised as a single parent for six years. Each has a son of his own. Austin is Greg’s boy, born February 10, 1997. He has a winning smile.
Austin lives with his mother and stepfather in Indianapolis with continual, loving guidance from his dad. Austin’s mother is married to Gradon Emmert, director of orchestras for Warren Central High School.
In June, 2011, the high school orchestra traveled to Hawaii to perform in tribute to the battleship U.S.S. Arizona. This ship was torpedoed and sank in the Pearl Harbor battle. Austin and his mom and sister were to accompany his stepdad on the trip.
When I learned of the trip, I told Austin and his stepdad about Austin’s great-grandfather Raymond and Raymond’s presence at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. I briefly related Raymond’s life story and how the attack affected him. I guess I hoped that they might think about Raymond and experience some emotional attachment to the ceremony when the orchestra presented its tribute.
The inspiring performance by the orchestra took place on June 13 of that year on deck aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, which anchored abreast of the sunken remains of the Arizona. Both war ships are significant because the Arizona was sunk during the first hour of the Japanese attack and the armistice to end World War II was signed aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan. They are the Alpha and Omega.
A justifiable, honorary tribute that was not planned as part of the Arizona ceremony took place, a strictly serendipitous opportunity. It could not have been scripted any better than if practiced for weeks.
During the playing of The National Anthem by the orchestra, the national ensign, “Old Glory,” was slowly raised on the main mast of the Battleship Missouri, paying respect and honor to the U.S.S. Arizona and her crew and the military personnel who lost their lives or experienced the 1941 attack.
My grandson and Raymond’s great-grandson, Austin Montgomery, was selected to do the honor of raising Old Glory.
Think of the odds of an event like this ever occurring. Seventy years after Pearl Harbor, a great-grandson of a victim raised the American flag aboard the Battleship Missouri, and, with emotional thought, expresses, “Thank you, Great-Grandpa Ray, for your sacrifice, and here in your memory, I raise ‘Old Glory’ in your honor. We love you.”
Whether or not this thought about his great-grandfather Raymond passed through Austin’s mind while raising the ensign doesn’t matter. The act itself was performed as one of respect and honor. In my mind, it represented on my behalf and Austin’s a personal tribute to my father, Edward Raymond Montgomery.
How can we ever pay our respect and gratitude to those souls who gave so much when they were called upon to do their duty? I consider that, in a small way, Austin was able to express a sincere thank you to all who were victims of the “Day of Infamy” when he raised that glorious flag.
Thank you, Austin. It means so much. Grandpa loves you. Great-Grandpa Ray would have loved you, too. You make us proud.