Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fessie Pennington SS2 comes home

Fessie Pennington with wife Rebecca

This photo was likely taken when Fessie was home on leave, either during the Spring of 1944 while he was still in Navy boot camp or the following year after the USS Reno made it to the port of Charleston for repairs. My cousin Vicky has the blue sailor's uniform that he is wearing in this picture.

Fessie was a man of strength, both before the war and after, and certainly during. He was tough, a man's man - ask anyone who knew him. And yet the war left its mark in a way that no one ever knew until after his death.

Recently, we were able to obtain his discharge and medical records from his Navy service. These records indicated that Fessie was being treated for traumatic neurosis following his return stateside after the Reno's removal from the Pacific Theater. The doctors' notes revealed a troubled Fessie who had anxiety and difficulty sleeping, an all too-common malady for those soldiers and sailors returning from the horrors of war. This revelation was surprising to me as it would be for anyone who knew Fessie Pennington. Not Fessie. He was as tough as they came, could handle anything, yet even this strong individual wasn't immune from what today we would call post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Fessie had one more challenge to endure before returning home for good. In September 1945, his mother, Ethel Dee Sloan Pennington, died while Fessie was still in Charleston. After her sudden death, Fessie was granted leave to return home for the funeral. His daughter, Betty Jean, my mother, recalls a heart-broken, sobbing Fessie upon his arrival home, an unusual display of emotion for him. One has to wonder if Fessie's grief over his mother also included an overlay of grief for his scars of war, a catharsis of weeping that perhaps helped him recover from his experiences.

Shortly after his mother's death, Fessie was discharged home for good. In later years, he would occasionally speak of his time during war, and being the good story-teller that he was, I'm sure there was some embellishment here and there. But the record speaks for itself, and Fessie's stories match up exactly with the record for the USS Reno.

One more thing before leaving the subject of Fessie's World War II service. Remember the typhoon? The crow's nest? Once Fessie returned home, he had a healthy respect for a "storm cloud." It didn't take much for Fessie to drop everything at the hint of a bad storm to head for the storm cellar that he had built in the side of a hill near his house. Lightning strikes brought back memories, I'm sure, of his time spent in the crow's nest. One can only imagine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding writing.