The loss of memories is something we all will deal with eventually. One of the ways around losing our past is to document it in writing or on tape. But what do you do when that documentation goes missing? That is the question a World War II veteran and his family are asking themselves.
Melvin Suda tried to join the Navy at 17-years-old. His father refused to sign the application, however, and instead Melvin took an apprenticeship making bullet gauges. Then Pearl Harbor was attacked and America was thrust into conflict in the South Pacific.
Suda gave up his job, which allowed him to defer being drafted and joined the fight. At first they the government doctors wanted to put him in the Marines, but he begged them to let him join the Navy, his childhood dream. They allowed it.
Suda eventually was assigned to the U.S.S. President Adams. One of his first battles was at Guam. At the time, he was the engineer who kept the motor running on the landing barge carrying Marines from the ship to the shore.
“Guam was miserable,” said Suda.
Immediately his facial expression changed. The memories flooded back, and for a moment he was back on that ship, the mortars whizzing past 40 feet overhead. His eyes filled with tears.
“Before some of the marines ever got off the ramp, they lost their leg or were dead or stuff like that. And, then we would pull them back in,” said Suda choking back sobs. “Things flash across my mind, when I talk about some of these invasions.”
You can see how emotionally and physically draining the three-minute exchange was for Suda. Documenting his stories and memories took months. Each Monday, his daughter-in-law Cathy Suda would come to help.
“We would sit at his kitchen table and we would discuss it,” said Cathy.
Eventually, she started typing her notes into her laptop and the pair constructed his memoir. As it neared completion, Suda gave his daughter-in-law some of his most prized Navy documents to add to the book. But when Cathy got home, she forgot her bag in her truck which remained in the driveway of her house in Fenton.
That evening, someone broke into the truck and stole her bag, which contained not only the documents inside a white binder, but also the laptop with the entire book on it. They didn’t discover the theft for another day when she could not find the bag.
Now, a week and a half later, they are desperate to retrieve the documents. Cathy and her husband are offering a $200 reward, no questions asked, for the return of the items.
Back at Melvin’s home, he is wary of recreating the book. Reliving the memories is not a pleasant experience for him. And at 92 years old, his family doesn’t know how much longer his mind and health will be as good as they are now.
Melvin himself is conflicted.
On one hand, he doesn’t view his service as anything special. He describes himself as just another sailor doing what needed to be done, and reminds that there were thousands of others just like him. On the other hand, he is concerned that his legacy will amount to nothing, with no physical documentation he did anything in the war.
One of Suda’s most prized possessions is his grandfather’s discharge documents from the Dakota War of 1862. His grandfather was injured during one of the conflicts and received a discharge from service. The document is the only thing that shows what he did.
With the loss of Suda’s personal documents he is concerned his descendants will have no proof of his involvement in the Second World War.