Editor’s note: John Desenberg is 77. He served in the Ohio Army National Guard from 1964-1973.
On the morning of May 28, 1945, the USS Drexler, a destroyer in the U.S. naval fleet, was deployed on the floating “picket line” that surrounded the island of Okinawa in support of the vicious battle being fought by U.S. Army and U.S. Marine combatants against a formidable Japanese force determined to defend to the death. It was the last and bloodiest of the battles in the Pacific Theater of operations that had already seen many terrible and deadly battles before it during World War II. The death toll had grown higher and higher.
That morning two Japanese Kamikaze planes scored nearly direct hits on the Drexler, killing many American sailors instantly and sinking her within minutes. About 100 of her crew escaped death but found themselves floating in an inferno of floating of on fire from the explosions and nearly all were later rescued. My father, Donald A. “Art” Desenberg was not a survivor. He left a wife and four children at home. A little over two months later, World War II was over.
There are still survivors of the USS Drexler alive today, although their numbers are rapidly diminishing. A monument with the names of those lost at sea and during land battles is maintained at the Punchbowl Cemetery at Honolulu. It has since been expanded to include all wars in the Pacific theater, including Korea and Vietnam. In 1989, my wife Carol and I were able to visit and take pictures of my dad’s memorial, providing a bit of closure.
After the loss of our father, ours became a military family. My oldest brother Don, now deceased, joined the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He served aboard two separate aircraft carriers assisting the takeoff and landing of propeller-driven Corsairs and later, Navy Panther jets, in the Sea of Japan. My next older brother Bill was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne during the mid 1950s. He voluntarily made multiple jumps out of perfectly safe airplanes. I in turn served a 10-year stint in the Ohio Army National Guard and achieved the rank of 1st Lieutenant.
In our family, our two oldest sons, John and Tony, are Navy veterans. John sailed through the Indian Ocean, the Philippines and then performed land duty with Naval Intelligence near Tokyo, Japan. Our youngest son Jim, like his dad, also served in the Ohio Army National Guard as an NCO at discharge.
The tradition continues with two grandchildren. Caleb and Mackenzie Clay, son and daughter of our daughter Christine, went the academy route. Caleb graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point this last May and Mackenzie is a second year cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Their father, Brad, is also a West Point grad. Grandma and Grandpa are obviously very proud.
I and my entire family revere our country’s flag and the military legacy that it encompasses. The U.S. flag is not just a colorful and beautiful piece of cloth (although it’s that too), to be dug out once a year and flown on the Fourth of July. It’s also not just a great symbol of a great country, although it’s that also. To me and my family, the flag constitutes a very special feeling — that despite loss, but also triumph — the heart and soul of the many men and women who fought and served this great country. And especially those, like my dad, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and the yearning for an everlasting peace.