The word hero might instantly bring a name to mind as we all have people in our lives that are heroes to us. Many of these men and women live quiet lives, their brave acts known to few. Often they don’t discuss their heroism and in retrospect it could be related to post-traumatic stress disorder—the memories are so painful that daily life is altered by flashbacks and nightmares.
My father-in-law, Edward Thomas Havey, was a quiet hero who rarely spoke of that part of his history. But he has something in common with Louis Zamperini whose name was not a household word until SEABISCUIT author Laura Hillenbrand asked him if she could tell his story.
The result was the best-selling book UNBROKEN and now the coming film, directed by Angelina Jolie. That’s stardom. But Zamperini’s story of competing in the 1936 Olympic Games, enlisting in the Army Air Force in 1941 and surviving torture in Japanese prison camps is only part of his heroic story. The event that led to his imprisonment occurred when his plane went down in the South Pacific. He and two other men were left to drift in a life raft for 42 days. When I think of that part of Zamperini’s amazing story, I think of my father-in-law, a quiet hero—a man reluctant to tell his own.
A lawyer, married with one child, Edward Havey was sent to Harvard University for three months to prepare for his assignment as a communications officer on the USS BUSH. He was 31 years old. There’s a picture of my father-in-law with fellow officers taken on the BUSH in July 1944. In that photo there are many more men than you see in the one above. The 6th of April, 1945 had the power to change the trajectory of many lives, including my own.
His ship was operating off the coast of Okinawa and from April 4th through April 5th, crew members worked tirelessly to repel Japanese planes that continued to attack them. My father-in-law related that the men were exhausted from the barrage and probably had little reserves left for the trauma to come.
On the 6th of April at 3:15 in the afternoon the first of three Kamikaze planes hit, causing the bomb or torpedo it was carrying to explode in the forward engine room. Damage was incurred, yet the ship was not a loss and help was requested. A destroyer, the Colhoun, notified the BUSH that assistance was on the way, but she was hit by another suicide plane and was severely damaged. Then at 5:25 p.m. a second kamikaze crashed into the port side of the BUSH’s main deck almost severing the ship in two. Fires broke out everywhere. Then finally at 5:45 a third plane hit the port side above the main deck. Ammunition caught fire and began to explode. Though officers felt the BUSH would break amidships, they held on feeling that those halves were salvageable.
But at 6:30 p.m. heavy waves began to rock the ship from all sides and her midsections began to list and cave. Everyone had to abandon ship. Naval history records that at that time they had already lost 87 crew members and that 227 went into the water.
There were lifeboats and the history states they were filled with men wearing life jackets who though they were in a vessel had to fight the pounding of the waves, taking in salt water that made them vomit. The report reads: some men become hysterical and violent. Although they were wearing life jackets and in all cases appeared to be physically unhurt, they would give up, slip out of their life jackets and go down or swim out into the darkness to meet the same fate.. Thirty-three men were lost in this period.
My father-in-law? Though he was an officer, he ended up in the water—no lifeboat, just a lifejacket and his desire to live. The history states that the water temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but felt cold as they went in under cover of darkness—a cover that did shield them from airplane fire. The rising swells continued to beat at them until 10:00 p.m. when they calmed somewhat, but the men had already been in the water for 3 ½ hours. My father-in-law fought each wave, struggling to keep his head up and hearing the screams of other men who were possibly being attacked by sharks.
But he endured, clinging to his life. Those hours when he fought each oncoming wave and prayed to his God remain holy, startling moments. Those are the hours I sometimes dwell on, realizing that within my father-in-law was the potential to live a wonderful life, to climb from the vise of death by drowning or hypothermia or the ravages of a shark and live to bring ten more children into the world—yes ten—the second to be born, his first son, my husband. Because my children and my grandchildren would not be if something else had occurred during those solemn hours while my father-in-law fought for his life. Thanks, Dad. And the world would not have the story of courage that Louis Zamperini’s life will be remembered for if he too had lost it while his raft continued to float under the hot sun, provisions dwindled and one of the men with him died.
We have said many times that the story line in the film IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE aligns with lives like those of Edward Havey and Louise Zamperini. Clarence, the angel, makes the Jimmy Stewart character, George Bailey, realize that if he hadn’t saved his brother Harry’s life when the kid broke through ice, that many other lives would not have been saved.
Edward Havey not only made it possible for a future family to spring from his life, he also saved the life of a fellow officer. Ralph Moses fought the waves too, but hypothermia set in. When my father-in-law saw Moses pass out, he reached for him. After 3 days without sleep and 8 hours in the water, my heroic father-in-law found the strength to stay alive and save a fellow officer. He held up Moses for over an hour.
Finally the USS PAKANA arrived and saved 89 men from the grip of the ocean. History reports that some men became excited on seeing the ship and tried to swim to her. Being exhausted they lost strength and sunk or were pulled under by the ship. Everything occurred in complete darkness, since enemy planes were in the area. Twelve men died after being hauled aboard.
My father-in-law hit the deck and collapsed.
Days later in Chicago, my mother-in-law read in the Tribune that the USS BUSH and the COLHOUN had sunk. She waited over two weeks to learn that her husband was alive, this helped by a cousin with connections to another member of the Navy who was able to discover that my father-in-law was at a hospital at Pearl Harbor. Exhausted and suffering from his experience, it took him time to realize he could contact his family. When he finally landed at Midway Airport in Chicago, his 3-year-old daughter immediately recognized him, but my mother-in-law did not. He had lost a great deal of weight and was not the fresh-faced wise attorney that had left for the war.
Edward Thomas Havey was promoted to lieutenant (jg) and received the Philippine Liberation Ribbon and the Navy Medal for Heroism, the latter being the same medal JFK received. But eager to resume his life as a husband, father and attorney, he didn’t want these medals. Two years later when the war was finally over, he was working at his desk on La Salle Street when his secretary ushered in two Navy men. They presented him with the medals that we now proudly display in our home.
My father-in-law dedicated his life to family and did not like to speak of his experiences—the quiet hero. Ralph Moses’ family contacted my mother-in-law when they learned of my father-in-law’s death. They were grateful for their lives and knew that Edward Havey had much to do with them.
Louis Zamperini fought more battles once he was state-side. But he won those battles and when you read or see his story, he will give you hope that you can win yours too. Being a hero means strength, but it also means sacrifice and giving. My father-in-law had a wonderful life. He knew it and lived it every day with thanksgiving.
Thanks to John Havey and Google Images