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Eulogy of a WWII veteran, 2nd Lt John William "Bill" Quinn,
who felt "lucky" to live in Tulelake after the war, spoken by
his son Kevin Quinn: "...Dad had said of Tulelake...it
was the best place for him after the war because it was a city
filled with Veterans.."
September 8, 2017
"Thank you for coming.
Some years ago, in a newspaper interview about his war service, my Father said he thought he’d been ‘lucky’ in his life. Knowing what I did about his service and what it had cost him, ‘lucky’ was not how I would’ve described my Father. Then, not long ago, my Father told Michael that Tulelake was the best place he could have lived after the war. I now believe I finally understand why he had used the word ‘lucky’ in that interview.
Every combat veteran has a secret life. How strange it must be for them to walk among us, feeling they know things we do not know and could never really understand. The more I learned of my Father’s war experiences the less I understood how he could’ve borne them as well as he did, until Michael told me what Dad had said of Tulelake. That it was the best place for him after the war because it was a city filled with Veterans.
Dad could not go to work, down the street, to the Fire Hall, the bar, or a meeting with the 20-30 club, without seeing men who had also served in the war, and were no strangers to the grief and regret that came with that service. Our neighbor, Rollie Rinabarger had flown with the Black Sheep squadron, friends Dick Eastman and Nilo Hyytinen had also been, like Dad, in combat infantry in the South Pacific, and Veteran homesteaders were everywhere around Tulelake. The were rebuilding lives, coming to terms with the past and moving forward, they were not remaining prisoners of the war they’d so bravely fought and won. There were moving on, and not because they gathered to talk about their terrible war experiences, such sharing was not the style of their generation. I believe they gathered for card games and drinks and meetings and civic projects because it made them feel normal again, these men who had experience so much of the abnormal, horrific and extraordinary, that is ‘normal’ only of war.
But you’re not here because of my Father’s service in World War 2, you’re here because of his service to Tulelake. Nor did my Father come to Tulelake because of you, but you, or your parents, or others like you are among the reasons he stayed, and among the reasons he was able to leave so much of the war, with its griefs and regrets behind. Sadly, many of Tule’s Veterans are no longer with us, and the Basin is the poorer for their loss. But my Father taught many of their children during his years at Tule High, sometimes he even taught the children of those children, and in the course of years, many of those students, the ones that had enjoyed his classes, or at least passed them, many of those former students became my Father’s friends. And each time Dad would go to the Post Office, or eat at Marietta’s, or wander around the fair, he would enjoy their company.
The war had a durable hold on many Veterans, including my Father. For many years I would come up summers and we would go wood-cutting. At one such time he told me that he’d had to stop hunting, because hunting deer in the Modoc forest could put him back, in a blink of the mind, to hunting men in the jungles of New Guinea. So he cut wood instead, and limited his hunting to arrowheads, in areas like Clear Lake, where you could see for miles in all directions, and there was no place for a painful memory to wait in ambush. And he would come back from each trip to a town he knew and loved, and to people who knew and love, or respected him. People like you.
He got lucky, and was able to live in a place where he could reclaim his considerable mind, maintain his generosity of spirit, and his great sense of humor, an essential quality for a high school teacher. And now, having lost my father, and received the sympathies of so many who admire him, I truly understand what he meant when he said Tulelake was the best place he could have lived. And that he’d been lucky in his life.
He was lucky. Had circumstances been otherwise he could have lived someplace where he might have succumbed to the grief, and isolation that afflict so many combat Veterans of wars past and present. I wish that they too could have enjoyed my Father’s good fortune, and found their place in the civilian world again. Dad had been lucky, and he’d be the first to admit it, and the first to say it did not happen because he was more deserving than any others who had also served their country and also earned a life of peace within it. But he got lucky, had it been otherwise his memorial service might have been held twenty, forty, or even seventy years ago. Instead, he lived to within a month of his ninety-eight birthday. Instead, he was packing a Qusqvarna chainsaw around the forest in Siskiyou summers, cutting trees for Tule winters, well into his eighties. Instead, he was enjoying the spare splendors of our high-desert landscape until my Mother’s health necessitated their move to Yreka. I wish he’d been able to live out his life here, among the friends he loved in the town he loved. So did he. But he would probably say that he’d already gotten more than his share of good luck by living in Tulelake as long as he did, and had more than his share of good memories of that life to comfort him away from Tule. He would probably say a lot of things to you, to tell you how grateful he was to have been able to share, with you, this Basin, and how grateful he was for you to have shared your lives with him. And he would, no doubt, say it more eloquently than I could ever hope to. But he can’t, so I must try.I have no children, and no idea of what it takes to raise one, but I know what it takes to heal a wounded soldier. It takes a community. Thank you, all of you, for having been part of that community. Thank you for my Father’s life. My Father’s lucky life."
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