A Story of a Lifetime

United States Travel Blog

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This is probably the most significant story of my life.

It has been incredibly hard to put it all down in writing to ensure that I do it sufficient justice.


It all started during the heat of battle of World War 2 in 1944, with my grandfather…

But for now, let me take you back to 1994:
My father was drastically searching for his real father. His mother had passed away in March 1993 taking most of the secrets to her grave. All we knew was that his real father was a US submariner who had met my grandmother whilst in Port in Fremantle, Western Australia during the war. He'd then gone missing and perished while on patrol. My father had been forbidden his whole life of asking any further questions or even talking about it. He'd been raised by his adopted father as a son and life was no more complicated than this. My grandmother’s death in 1993 sparked a renewed and unbridled passion to foreclose on a lifetime of unknowns for my dad.

The kick starter was a documentary on ABC television about WW2 Navy. My father sat there transfixed. Mesmerised. The next day, a Monday morning, he rang the ABC and asked for contact information for the Producers of the documentary. This was forthcoming and my dad was overwhelmingly surprised to make a welcome call to the friendly producer who was incredulous that my dad didn’t know that the Allied Forces Submarines Veteran Association for the entire world was based in Perth.... the city we live in...!!

What to do now?

We were given a number for the Veteran Association President, a wife of an American Vet.
My father rang her without any real clue about what he was doing or how to address the issue.

I clearly remember this day.
It was January 1996 and a typically hot summer day - I was home on holiday.
My dad is 6foot3 and a well built, fit guy. He's always been a giant pillar to me.
This was the first time I ever saw him stuttering and crying....
I can’t really write how much this affected me... but I knew this was to be one of the defining moments in my life.
I watched as my father called. He announced himself and then started to stutter...
There was a short silence and then the reply: "Let me guess sonny. You want me to help you find your father?"

At this point my dad lost it completely and with her insistence resolved to hang up, recompose and retry to call later.

After some time my dad re-called and soon discovered that there were literally thousands of people ‘like him‘ in the Perth/Western Australia area due to the fact that Fremantle was a significant port for the allies during the war.

We were later to find out that 'foreign' pregnancies were highly common during the war and many letters from pregnant women to service personnel were returned with the markings 'lost/missing/dead' to prevent further follow up. This was to protect the sailors.

I wonder just how many lives were lived in shadows because of decision like these.

But this is where the plot thickens...
She asked if we knew the name. Which we did.

We 'knew' that he had died during the war as all my grandmothers’ mail had been returned. She'd received notices that he was dead. She had been devastated and naturally felt extremely vulnerable. She quickly married and my father was adopted as a son to the new husband. All evidence was hidden and the topic never discussed.

The Veteran President soon checked her records and despite all rationale, was soon telling us that he was alive and well, living in USA. Granted her records were a few years old and in need of updating.... This was a momentous discovery. Suddenly, we had a grandfather alive and well sitting somewhere on the other side of the world. Now we just needed to find him!

Now the plot took an unexpected yet interesting turn.

It turns out the submarine my Grandfather was on was the ‘USS Angler’. Of course, everyone on a sub knew everyone else.... and it just so happened that a fellow crew member of that sub would be visiting Perth, and the Veteran President that very next week. Ed had enlisted at the age of 16 during the war and was good friends with the President and her American husband.

A week later I came home from a blistering hot day at the beach to meet a grey haired American man with the most radiantly blue eyes and infectious smile to ever warm my soul. It was impossible to not immediately feel some sort of connection with Ed. I cannot lie, and have to admit that I had no idea how to accurately accept all of this new information.

Ed had been prepped about my father prior to leaving USA, and had come armed with old navy photos of my grandfather.

I was totally unprepared for what followed. I was still to wash down my board and surfing gear and there I was staring at 50year old photos of a young man looking extremely similar to myself. It was chilling to the bone and an experience like I doubt I could ever have again.


It turns out that in late December of 1944 their sub, the USS Angler, had been attacked, and went missing for several weeks. Next of kin had been notified that the sub was missing, presumed destroyed. On the evening of December 24th, it was stuck on a reef, unable to submerge and sustaining heavy bombardment. The crew had accepted their fate and said their goodbyes to each other when suddenly the clock struck midnight. It was Christmas Day, and the bombing suddenly and miraculously, ceased. Whether you believe or not: Praise be to Jesus - the sub was able to escape and eventually return to USA!

Unfortunately, Ed had lost contact with my grandfather but resolved to track him down on his return to USA. A few weeks later, Ed returned home and begun his search. Unfortunately, every turn was fraught with dead ends. Months were passing and all contacts were either expired, incorrect or non-existent.

On a hunch, Ed called the Sherriff’s office of the town of the last known residence. Not sure how to pose the question, Ed simply asked the Sherriff if he could help track down a fellow of the name 'Berg'.
The reply was along the lines of 'Hell yeah! Everyone in this town knows the Bergs; they are one of the biggest families here!' The Bergs were a German-American family. My grandfather was one of 15 Lutheran children born in Danville, Illinois. His mother had died giving birth to the 15th and thus final child and the father had raised the children alone.

Within days from this, my grandfather had been tracked down. Unfortunately, we were too late. He had died approximately a year prior, and exactly a month after my grandmother had passed away in Australia.
This was extremely crushing but we continued our searching.

Ed then proceeded to track down known relatives and next of kins. We soon had addresses, names and Ed even sent us a Laptop with Modem so we could get connected to this new thing called 'The Internet' and 'Emails'!

My parents then sat down to write the letter of a lifetime. Having no real idea how to address the issue, or how it would be received. The Veteran President warned us that most cases like ours were met with much anger, disbelief and rejection. It even had the risk of disrupting and even tearing apart respectable families.

So we rolled the dice....and sent the letter to my dad's half-sister (my aunt) in Florida.

Forgetting the letter almost completely, we were all rudely woken several weeks later at about 3am.
We all ran to the phone expecting some sort of emergency and we stood around as my dad, half asleep, stuttered to comprehend the loud American voice on the other end of the phone.

We could all hear the words: 'Welcome to the family!'

My aunt had received the letter and spent the previous few hours calling family across the country telling of the news. The response was overwhelming, we had received a resounding acceptance and welcome from an extended family of over 100 people and in nearly every US state.

Within a year my parents had gone to meet the family. A few years later I was able to make the same journey.

At the time, I was a student, and I spent my entire life savings on this trip. It was worth every cent.

This was truly a trip of a lifetime and nothing will ever come close in comparison. It was a defining moment in my life in so many ways.
It was my first overseas trip and it put the travel bug in me.
It was my first experience of overwhelming generosity and acceptance by 'strangers'.
First time on a rollercoaster.
It was the first time I ate a full 'pounder' hamburger, Mexican food, pumpkin pie, bagels and upsized a Burger King meal so much I couldn’t finish it.
First time I saw snow, a deer, an elk, a frozen lake and a bear trap.
First time I realised the drastic consequences of the fact that a 'Fanny' has quite the opposite meaning in America to Australia.

But most poignantly, I stood at the grave of my grandfather, holding his only surviving brother (my great uncle) and I wept.
I wept for myself, I wept for my grandmother who had been horribly lied to, but most importantly, I wept for my father. A man I love and cherish so dearly.

And I wept that my father was never able to experience the sort of fatherly bond that I'm so grateful to have. I can't comprehend how that emptiness must feel. It's a notion that stuck quite deep.

And without Ed, none of it would have been possible.

So I am forever indebted to him.

I have a treasured gift from Ed that I hold firmly at all times. Anyone who knows me well, will notice it. There isn’t a day that I don’t hold at and let my thoughts wander and I feel privileged to do so.

It takes me through so many emotions.

But most importantly, it allows me to contemplate and appreciate the miracles that permeate my existence.

I'm utterly thankful for the Fortunate life I’ve been blessed with, I fully acknowledge the sacrifices of my ancestors, and I try to make sure I cherish every minute I get with my parents.

TravellinChic says:
A very touching story. Thank you for sharing. This is something very emotionally private and I'm amazed by your courage to show some vulnerable part of you. Cheers!
Posted on: Jul 12, 2011
hdichter says:
this is so awesome! and, of course, the first bagel is always an important milestone :-)
Posted on: Apr 03, 2008
mikevirgo0824 says:
Hi Gene, thanks you so much for sharing this beautiful story. It sounds like some sort of modern day epic. It was beautifully written. Your dad would be proud. La vita e bella! Carpe Diem!
Posted on: Apr 03, 2008
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