Family Pic

Family Pic
My Birth Family in 1959

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Am My Mother's Heart

I am my Mother’s heart
She has sent me that feeling
Right from the very start
When in the womb
I felt her love
And hunger…
But she always saw to it
I had what I needed
My Mother’s heart
Breaks frequently
She feels such pain
And hides from me
But I know…
I am my Mother’s heart
©Lisa Tomey-Davis 3/20/04

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Man Who Makes the Soldier

The Man Who Makes the Soldier

Max Tomey: the sailor and soldier of WWII and “Daddy” as I always have known him. What is the secret to such a man?  The foundation: good upbringing, family values and a sense of duty, developed a man from an inquisitive and observant young boy. 

In the stories of many soldiers of WWII and other wars, we often hear of what was experienced and seen. What is the man or woman behind these brave souls?  This is what I hope to express in this story.

Max Howry Tomey was born in Lancaster, Missouri while his Mother, Minnie Tomey, was visiting her sister.  Not wanting to miss out on the family gathering is likely the motivating factor to Dad’s arrival.  My guess is that he smelled dinner cooking and said “here I am world, let’s eat!”  My father always had a taste for good home cooking and I am certain it started at an early age. 

Dad shared with me how he often spent time in the kitchen with his mother, who was touted as a great cook. More importantly, Dad learned about what was important in life.  Grandma gave lessons in her many kitchen talks about the importance of paying debts, the value of family and of good, hard work.  Not alone in this effort, Grandma had the help of Grandpa, Paul Tomey. Grandpa was a barber when Max was a young lad and changed careers to car sales while dad was growing up. The advantage, Dad shared, was that they always had a car and perhaps a different one quite frequently.
No doubt, Dad learned resourcefulness from both parents.  Both were hard working and frugal and both valued family. When Dad was a young teen while many of his friends were out and about, he often spent time in his Grandmother’s attic looking for all the interesting treasures.   One day, as he was purusing, he found a collection of the works of Shakespeare. This opened up a new world for this young man who had a genuine love for reading.  He read the entire works of comedy and tragedy.  Another interest was stamp collecting, again, as a result of his findings in Great Grandmother’s attic.

Not all of Dad’s youth was spent in the kitchen and the attic! He also was active in school and sports, playing football for his high school team.

My recollections of my Grandparents were that they both worked hard, even while we were there for a visit. They also loved to have fun. Grandma was a seamstress by trade and a Woman of the Moose in support of Grandpa’s leadership in the Moose Lodge.  The Moose Lodge was across the street from my Grandparent’s house and was often where Grandpa was when he wasn’t working.  Grandma loved to play bingo and whether it be at the Moose or the Ordinance Plant Recreation Center, Grandpa would see that she got to play.  It was while she was playing bingo at the recreation center that Grandpa had several mini strokes that eventually led to the ending of this wonderful man’s life. 

Not long after Grandpa’s passing my Grandmother started having health problems, with hardening of the arteries, and was placed in a nursing home.  I recall, many times, going with my family to visit Grandma, often it was just my Dad and I, and how we would take her on outings to the park.  Then, gradually, the effects of Grandma’s illness caused her to revert and she was unable to go out anymore.  Many times, Dad and I visited and I recall that look on my Father’s face as he fought back tears. My heart was full and painful as well.  Then, one night, we were called to the nursing home and Grandma looked at Dad and said “Max” and then drew her last breath.  She died in my arms. That was the first time in a long time that Grandma recognized my father.  

Dad came from a family of six children: sister Pauline and brothers Bill, Gene, Jack and Rex.  All were very close. During WWII each of the men served in different branches of the military.  My Grandmother received a letter recognizing this fact.  One wonders how she felt about all her sons being away at this most uncertain time.  Dad is so very proud of this letter and I am honored to have it in my possession. 

Love of family, family values, a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility made these men into soldiers who risked all for their country.

This is the man who took all of us to his arms, each night, as babies and fed us our bottles.  This is the man who fell in love with my Mother.  And this is the man who I proudly call “daddy.”  Nobody can say it was all peaches and cream growing up.  My father ruled with a toughness that was motivated by a desire to help us to become strong, independent people.  None of us came with a book of rules, but the devotion my grandparents had for my father surely instilled the value of family.  

My brothers, Bill and Darryl, both joined the military.  Darryl was in the Navy and served in Viet Nam. Bill was a career Air Force man.  Somehow that devotion Dad had for the military perhaps influenced the decision of my brothers to join.  They would have to tell their own stories about that.  My sister, Paula, married into the military and her son and oldest daughter were both in the military.  My brother Bill has one daughter whose husband  is in the Air Force. His oldest daughter has a son in the military. His father also served in the Air Force.

Dad shared many stories about his Navy days and he would talk with such zest I could not possibly take down these words. In an effort to keep this information alive, I taped my father. 

Following is a rough transcript from that interview:

I joined the Navy 12 or 13 June 1939.  I was first assigned to USS Texas and then I was assigned to new construction on the USS North Carolina at Brooklyn Navy Yard.  I was on the
skeleton crew and went to the ship approximately 8-9 months before it was commissioned.

I remember when it was launched I was standing outside of the bow of the ship the first time it hit the water, the first time it had ever hit the water in all the time it was being built.  We were all dressed up and decorated.

After she went I lived on the receiving ship USS…I can’t remember the name of the receiving ship at Brooklyn Navy Yard.

 We stayed there until the living quarters were complete…I was one of the first 8 members assigned on the skeleton crew.  I think I am the only surviving man, the other 7 went to Heaven.

When I was assigned to my ship my first job was the coxswain of the number 2 motor lodge, a 52 motor lodge that belonged to the second division.

While we were still building the ship at Brooklyn Navy Yard, I was at Times Square on 7 December 1941 when I looked up on Times Square and saw the lights flashing up there “Pearl Harbor Attack.”  I was out with a young lady by the name of Lovig Shalet a girl from Manhattan.  The radio said for everybody to report back to the duty station.  I called and asked: ‘ do I have to come back?’  And they said ‘oh no we can’t go to sea anyway. Come back when you are due in tomorrow morning.’

So then we went out to the bowling alley and bowled and I took her home and went back to the ship.  Of course, we hadn’t even completed our shakedown cruise yet.  We had a ways to go.

My memory may be failing on some things.

Then we heard the German battleship, Bon Turpit, was heading toward the United States so we were ordered to go to Portland, Maine to prepare to go out and meet the Bon Turpits, but she fled and later sank.  So then we got word to go to the Pacific.  We didn’t know what for yet.

Early 1942 we were heading for Pearl Harbor and there was the battleship sunk and the damage the Japanese had done from the attack on Pearl Harbor.  We loaded up on ammunition projectiles and so forth and headed out.  We headed for Guadalcanal.  That was the first landing that Americans made on foreign land. Of course, we didn’t land we brought fire and bombarded.  The Marines landed. While we were out there that is when I was sitting playing cards at noontime with the boys there and all at once ‘boom!’ I was on the third deck and ‘boom!’ the vibration of an explosion.  A twin torpedo hit us.  The men I played cards with…all disappeared as fast as I did down the hatch and to my station as left gunman.  Then I found out that the second division had been hit and I was the damage control petty officer.  After we had been hit we were instructed to cruise to Tonga Tabu on the Tonga Islands.

We steered to the Tonga Islands.  We had to take the bodies out of the ship and bury them in shallow graves over at Tonga Islands.  
Later on, they were transported back to the U.S.  We lost 6 from that explosion.  I knew all of them because I went through basic training at Great Lakes with them.

I remember one very clearly he blew over the side ‘Wayne Geary’ of New York(sic: the roster shows a Wayne Garret and I wonder if that is who Dad meant).  He was running on topside trying to get to his battle station and a wave caught him and took him over.  Of course nobody stopped…not with submarines around there.

When I came out at Bugentoch Island, we had to rig a commendation ladder and transfer the temporary caskets down a ladder to boats to take them to Tonga Tabu for a shallow burial.  I was the side boy; you had to pipe them over to the side.  It was a long devotional Boatswain’s Call. Anytime you gave orders for the ship you used the Boatswain’s
Call to pipe the call.  I was a Boatswain’s Mate and Coxswain before that. 

Eventually through the war I was for some reason pushed through pretty fast.  I was promoted to Second Division Boatswain’s Mate. 

We had to take the ship to Pearl Harbor to rebuild all 40 compartments and be able to go to sea again.

When I went back to sea I had completed my overseas tour and I had to be sent back to the U.S. Because I had served combat 2 years.  I was then assigned to the USS Curb as Top Boatswain’s Mate.  I was on USS North Carolina 2 years. I was on a ship all of WWII, in combat 3 years and had to complete time on a salvage ship due to having served wartime. I was in the Navy 6 years, 9 months, 21 days and 45 minutes.

The war as over and I went back to Ottumwa, Iowa. I got a job with the postal service and also sold insurance and the Air Force recruiter sold me on joining the Air Force.
(I was trying to sell the recruiter insurance.)

It was while in the Air Force that Dad met and married my mother, Thelma.  She had two sons Bill and Darryl and Dad had a son Michael (who did not grow up with us) from a previous marriage.  Next came my sister Paula, myself, my late brothers  “Little Max” and Jeffrey.  We had a full life, to say the least.

Dad was reminiscing when we took him to the USS North Carolina in summer 2004.  He recalled the first visit he ever made back to see the ship.  My Mother was living then and when she saw the ship she said, “There’s your ship!”  Tears came to his eyes as my Father choked up telling me about this experience.

My mother was no doubt thrilled as well to share in this piece of history.  An avid reader and student of life my Mother held in high regard the trials and tribulations of any person who served in the military.  Dad shared with her many stories, some of which left with her and we will never know on this earth.  I do know how she would tear up to share what was in her heart when it came to the devotion of humankind to seeking peace.

Dad remarried after the loss of my Mother to cancer.  Dad and Clara have been to one of the ship’s reunion. Dad is now in assisted living and is doing well.  He even was “Santa Claus” this year for the residents and recently started a choir.  The continuing desire to bring happiness to the hearts of those near to him is very much alive.  Nobody knows how long one has in life but to live ones life with devotion to goodness and peace often comes from fighting the wars of life.  A true soldier is one who fights not only with might but also with heart.  I am proud to be the daughter of such a soldier.


Max Tomey passed away on February 25, 2007. He is truly missed.