The Mentor’s Journey

September, 1942, Somewhere on Guadalcanal

Dear Mrs. Lowe,

My name is Allan Brady. I was in your husband’s company.  I am sure you have been notified by now of his death.  You will soon learn that he has been awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his leadership during the action which cost him his life.

Captain Lowe was my mentor. He was my officer, not my friend . . . but in a way, yes, he was. Anyway, I think of him as a friend.  He taught me.  He grew me.  My duties kept me close to him.  By example he demonstrated to me the art of leadership.

But what I want to tell you about him is how much he loved you.  He spoke of you often.  He spoke so often, that I even have an image of you in my mind.  He dreamed of the day when he could hold you and the child you will soon bear him in his arms. He was for me a great leader, and dedicated to his men and mission, but you were always with him.  He would often speak out loud to you, a conversation, when he thought he was alone, but I often heard him.

No!  We weren’t friends!  But, I loved him, like the older brother I never had.  That is what I want to share with you.

Please forgive me for this intrusion into your sorrow.

Sergeant  Allan Brady

* * *

March 15, 1943, 1423 Orchid Lane, Lexington, Virginia

Dear Sergeant Brady,

I’m  moving back to my home town. Lexington in Virginia. I have kept your letter from Guadalcanal. I have treasured it. I still think often of Stephan and have turned back to your letter. It warms my heart and I am deeply grateful for the comfort it gives me.

I have given birth to a beautiful daughter.  She is now six months old and I have named her after my husband, Stephanie.  A friend exclaimed, “No!  When she is older people will call her ‘Fanny!”  So now, I call her Stacy.

I read your letter to her.  Of course, she does not understand, but she listens to my voice and its tone.  Now it is just the sound of my voice, but some day she will know her father not only as I knew him, but also as you have known him.  His Navy Cross is fastened to the head of her crib.

Write to me.  Tell me how you are.  Oh God! I hope we have not lost you, too!  Oh, please, No!

I will not think such thoughts!

I  have grown out of the despair of my loss.  My daughter fills my heart, now.  I read in the news that the First Marine Division has now left Guadalcanal.  Where are you?  Please write. What has become of you? You’re my link to Stephan.

We are settling into Lexington.  I had completed one year of college when I met Stephan.  I am going to return and obtain my degree.  I want to be a teacher.

Can you guide me, be my mentor?  It would be as if it were from my Stephan.  How he taught you, how he helped you grow.

Please write to me.  Tell me how to become a mentor.  Most importantly, that you are alive and well.

Yours Truly, Helen Lowe

* * *

October 12, 1943 Melbourne, Australia

Dear Mrs. Lowe,

It is great pleasure to hear from you, that you now have little “Stacy” and that you to are moving on with your life.  The Captain has continued to be my guide, . . . my mentor. And it has changed me, too.  I had two years of university when I enlisted in the marines.  When I return, I have decided that I too will pursue a career as a mentor, a teacher, but as a PhD. in History!  I’m living history right now?  God! I hope we learn something from all of this

Sorry, it took your letter a long time to find me.  I’m no longer Sergeant Brady, I’m Lieutenant Brady.  They promoted me soon after we lost the captain, filling empty shoes!  We were in the First Marines, now I’m in the Fifth Marines.  We’re still in the same First Division.

Oh!  Incidentally, I am alive and well  Not even a scratch!

As for being your mentor.  I imagine it must be very different mentoring school children from mentoring marines.  We lost thousands, dead and wounded, on Guadalcanal and I have been mentoring the many replacements.  But, I still believe my task is a far-cry from guidance to your students. 

But there are some fundamental tricks than may be universal.  One, I think that I resented most, that I resisted. When I entered the Marine Corps; the DIs, Drill Instructors, shouted, calling us insulting names, driving us to learn the fundamental skills of an infantryman.  My high school football coach’s methods were similar.  That IS NOT the method I would use, even if I someday become a university teacher!  What DIs instilled in us was demonization of the enemy (KILL! KILL!-KILL!).  Fear of consequences if you don’t learn.

Mentoring, teaching, is empowerment.  When the captain instructed me, he often simply remarked,  “We have a problem.”  He would look me in the eyes and describe it.  Then he would sit back and wait for me to propose a solution.  Sometimes the problem was something I had done or said, but his guidance was to let me figure it out.  Sometimes he might coach me with a question.  By his MANNER he coached me to figure it out.  NO PUT-DOWNS.  I always felt like I had solved the matter.  Then he challenged me.  He smiled and passed me greater responsibilities.

As a teacher you set parameters to the whole class, whether it is conduct or knowledge you wish to convey.  But if somebody doesn’t get it the first time, DO NOT SHAME THEM, DON’T BELITTLE THEM.  Offer to let them solve the problem.  Problem solving is an art.  Assist them to learn the art.  That works even with most soldiers.  One caveat, with most of them.  There are alternative measures that are occasionally necessary.

We are preparing to leave Australia.  I don’t know where we will be deployed.  They’ll tell us when we’re on the ships. You will probably find out from the newspapers.  My address is. Company A, the Fifth Regiment, First Marine Division.  I will write to you again, if and when I am able.  I promise to be careful.

Lieutenant Allan Brady, USMC

* * *

28 December, 1943, Lexington, Virginia

Dear Allan (may I address you that way?)  I just read the First Marine Division invaded a place called Cape Gloucester . . . wherever that is.  Please write as soon as you can.  I am worried for you.

I have been in classes at the college and paying for a baby sitter for Stacy.  Arabela, is a doll and encourages my efforts.  She charges me within my budget.  Stacy is thriving and occupies most of my free time.  But I have been thinking about you and praying for you daily.  Is that strange?  We have never even met face-to-face!

You have never mentioned your family.  I hope they are praying for your well-being, too.

College is not difficult for me.  I have had earlier experience, but it still demands much of my time. Oh, I guess I said that before.  I truly appreciate your advice about mentoring.  It has caused me much reflection.  Of course, I find much of my Stephan in it, but I also am becoming deeply acquainted with you.  I hope your soldiers, oops, marines appreciate you as much as I do.

February  15. My God!! You’re fighting in New Britain, now.  Where is that?

OH!!  Stacy contracted whooping cough!  I was distracted and didn’t realize I hadn’t mailed this.  She is fine now, but I was terrified. Arabela  has children in high school and she took over and calmed my fears. She is a life-saver!

I’ve received no news from you.  Are you okay?  Please, please write to me. I have decided I want you to become Stacy’s God Father.  Will you accept that?  She listens closely when I read your old letters to her.

Yours Truly Helen

* * *

March 15, 1944. Espiritu Santo

Dear Helen,  (If I can address you as Helen, you may call me anything you wish)

New Britain is in the western part of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea.

Espiritu Santo is a military field hospital.  I’ve been here almost a month.  I got hit in the buttocks!  Nothing disASStrous,  (please excuse my coarse Marine Corps humor).  It is exASSperating, because I can’t sit in a chair and a smart-ASS in the next bed keeps asking what I was running away from.  Actually, it wasn’t a bullet that hit me, it was a spray of grenade shrapnel.

I will be released soon.  I have orders to return to the States to Camp Pendleton in California. The Corps is activating a new Division, the Fifth, and experienced officers are needed. I expect to be assigned to train a new company.  Now. I have received my captain’s bars!  Sooner-or-later we will certainly be deployed in the Pacific.

I accept the honor as Stacy’s God Father.  But with one condition. I WANT A PHOTOGRAPH OF THE TWO OF YOU TOGETHER!  Stacy must be getting close to starting her second year and I have no visual image of either of you.  Something to carry with me and remind me of what I’m fighting for.

I promise I’ll write.  At Pendleton, I should find more time to put pen to paper.

Sincerely, Alan

PS.  When I get back in the States, I’ll make a point of getting a self photo, so Stacy can visualize her God Father.  And You can, too.

* * *

March 30, 1944, Lexington, Virginia

Dear Allan,

The military post office is definitely improving its service.  Two weeks!  I have enclosed a photo of us.  Stacy is half-way to her second birthday and is beginning to babble.  She even says your name, AAWAN!  I am looking forward to an image of the mysterious Captain Aawan Brady.

Yes, I too, believe in what you are fighting for.  But I pray you will not die for it.  Please forgive me!  I live in the anxiety that you may suffer as my Stephan did.  I want to welcome you home, hug you to my breast and see Stacy in the arms of her God Father.

My progress at college is exciting. I look forward to the day when I can stand before a classroom of children and become their MENTOR . . . as you have become MY MENTOR. I pray that those young marines in California will benefit from your guidance.

I have suddenly realized that being a mentor, a guide, a teacher of children is not just a professional task.  It is an act of love. Has it occurred to you, too?  I believe that I will focus my teaching on grades one through six.  I have already experienced the one-to-six classes as an observer.  Their innocence is so beautiful.  Their awakening so endearing.  In that sense, I am certain that my experience will differ from your teaching of young marines.  What do you think?

Yours Truly, Helen

PS  Don’t forget the photo.

* * *

July 7, 1944, Baker Company, 28th Regiment, 5th Division, Camp Pendleton, California

Dear Helen

I arrived at San Diego two weeks ago and I was processed through a physical exam, orientation, etc,  etc, etc, and I am now assigned as commander of Baker Company of the 28th Regiment.  I have a half dozen  butter-bar lieutenants.  They’re green as grass.

But, fortunately, I have experienced sergeants for my platoons and a young exec who picked up a Purple Heart and Bronze Star on Tarawa.  We have enough experienced staff to sort these kids out.  Yeah, they’re kids . . . boys 18 and 19 years old. I want to make them marines,  but not the heroes they seem to believe they’re going to be.  I want to make them effective marines and SURVIVORS.  I KNOW they won’t all be survivors.  And it will be me who leads them into harm’s way.  The picture I have enclosed probably reveals that feeling in the expression on my face.  I apologize.  I have done this before, but it always becomes more difficult as I gaze on their young, young innocent faces.  What kind of man am I becoming?

You mentioned your love of the youngsters you will mentor.  Their beauty, their innocence. Mine too, are innocents!  And somewhere, I will be marching many of them to death or maiming.  How can I face their mothers and fathers?  I will probably never have to face them.  But how can I face you and Stacy?  How can I face myself?

There’s a kind of love for one’s comrades in battle.  It’s a strange kind of love, but it is real.  I believe your Stephan felt this, too.  You watch them die and a part of you dies with them.  I’ll finish this later.

July 8th.  Please forgive me for unburdening on you?  I have no one else!  I remember that you asked me if I have a family.  I was raised in an orphanage.  My only family is the Marine Corps.  But after this war, I will abandon that family.  It’s all about death!  Damn!  Black thoughts.  Again, I apologize.

I’m okay now.  I also want to be a teacher, a mentor.

I have a first rate company sergeant.  His name is Raymond Baker . . . of Baker Company, believe it or not!

He’s an “Old Breed” Marine, Nicaragua and Haiti.  He’s a crusty old bugger, but he shares my feelings about the youngsters we’re training.  I definitely don’t want to be a warrior after the war is over.  I will go for a PhD in History, but I will also teach and write about the lessons I am learning, now.

Give Stacy a hug for me and tell her I love her.  And a warm embrace for you. 

Yours Truly, Allan

PS. How much longer before you achieve your degree? Is it a four year course?

TO BE CONTINUED…

Robert Bruce Drynan
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