Friday, February 28, 2014
As you turn into the driveway, the red, white and blue of an American flag gently waves from the small front porch. Surrounding the license plate on the back of a white Toyota is a metal frame that reads, “WW II Veteran.”
Near the front door, off to the left is a wood box with neatly cut and arranged fire wood in case the electricity fails.
The house is warm and decorated with photographs of family, best grandma and grandpa awards and a U.S. Navy certificate. On the opposite side next to a wall-mounted television is an autographed photograph of U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke fame and a photograph of President Ronald Reagan and Senator Strom Thurmond.
At first glance I immediately thought the profile of President Reagan was the man I was visiting and said, “I thought that was you” and his wife said “yes, a lot of people do.”
With a full head of hair and a distinctive jaw line similar to President Reagan, this tall lanky man looks ten to fifteen years younger than his actual age. After listening to some of the many roles he’s lived as a young man, sailor, employee, father, and farmer, you immediately recognize that Bethel Goude is part of the fabric that made our country what it once was.
Growing up during the lean years of the depression and serving in both the European and Pacific theaters when our country was at war with the Germans and Japanese, Bethel has a deep appreciation for the greatness of America.
“War is stupid” he says but he knows full well that sometimes war is a necessary evil that has kept America free from tyranny.
Traveling to Florence on May 7, 1942, Bethel signed up for the Navy and was sent to Norfolk, Virginia for boot camp. After finishing at Norfolk, his home for the next month-and-a-half was on a destroyer, the U.S.S. Mervine or DD489 and several of the Caribbean islands.
The Mervine was one of over 25 ships that escorted several hundred ships to Liverpool, England for the D-Day invasion of North Africa. Bethel’s job was manning a 40mm machine gun and looking for German submarines that were always patrolling below the dark waters of the Atlantic.
While in the European theater, Bethel’s ship cruised both the Mediterranean and Black Seas before he was chosen to serve on the U.S.S. Vicksburg which was going to fight the Japanese in the Pacific.
After crossing the Atlantic and passing through the Panama Canal, the Vicksburg sailed to Pearl Harbor, Saipan, and Iwo Jima where it rendezvoused with the Third Fleet that was preparing for the Marines to go ashore.
As the Marines were leaving the ships, Bethel remembers them yelling to the Navy sailors, “Thank you for getting us this far and we’ll take it from here.”
Of the 19,000 Japanese defending Iwo Jima, fewer than 200 prisoners were captured.
Preparing for the Okinawa invasion, Navy forces bombarded the island for four days with heavy artillery and air strikes. 300-400 Kamikaze attacks were made against ships by Japanese pilots who had taken an oath of loyalty to the Emperor and the honor believed to be derived from death of service to Japan. Bethel manned his 40 mm machine gun during attacks from both dive bombers and torpedo planes.
November 28, 1945 was a chilly day in Charleston when Bethel gave his final salute to the Navy discharge officer. During his three-and-one-half years, Bethel traveled over 200,000 miles at sea with only five days spent on American soil.
A few years later, Bethel and his good friend Cleland Joye stopped by the Joye’s house and out on the porch was a pretty blonde-haired girl named Miriam who was Cleland’s sister.
After dating for several months, Bethel and Miriam were married at the Georgetown County Courthouse by Miss Bessie Bettancourt. Working at the courthouse was Mr. Otto Pope who witnessed the marriage and the $4.00 license fee.
Over the years, Reuben, Luther, Gwen and Brenda expanded the Goude family and Bethel always told them, “I was no hero but I was where heroes were made.” The Mervine was awarded two battle stars for action in North Africa and Sicily while the Vicksburg also received two for Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Every afternoon around 3:00, Bethel asks Miriam for his daily snack. Either a Coke or Mountain Dew and a Baby Ruth or Snickers.
At 5:30, Bethel comforts himself on the sofa, props his feet on the ottoman, turns on the Western Channel and catches another episode of Gunsmoke. Life is good.