Are you old enough to remember World War II? Or did you learn about that war in a high school or college classroom? Or perhaps your interest in the topic led you to bookstores and libraries in search of information? Maybe you have been fortunate enough to talk with a veteran who was at the Beaches of Normandy or at Dachau after Americans liberated that death camp?
Have you been to cemeteries in Europe where rows of white crosses stand for those who gave all, or maybe you have been to Arlington National Cemetery? Perhaps you have studied the monuments in your small hometown where the names of those who perished in that war are engraved?
In 1991, Ann Bennett Mix founded the American World War II Orphans Network (AWON), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor Americans who died or are missing in action in that war and to locate and support their children. AWON estimates that there are 183,000 such children.
AWON publishes a newsletter, sponsors conferences and gatherings, assists members in locating and retrieving military records, and encourages on-line communications (firstname.lastname@example.org or www.awon.org).
I spoke recently with Nick Joe Mott, of Tipp City, Ohio, the only child of PFC Garner William Mott of St. Paris, Ohio. His father was a 1941 Christiansburg-Jackson High School graduate and basketball star and a U.S. Marine. At age 22 on May 7, 1945, Garner was killed instantly by mortar fire while in a foxhole in Okinawa. Prior to his death, he had written in a letter, “I can’t wait to get back to the States and hold my son.” Nick still has that letter with other mementos of his father.
In 1999, Nick was able to meet his father’s platoon leader who was in the foxhole beside his father the day his father was killed. Nick says, “It seems I have always known that my father died in the war. My mother remarried in July of 1946, married Bob Brown, an Army Air Corps veteran who was responsible for the maintenance of P-38s in Western Europe during the war. He was a nice guy, did things with me when I was young such as build me a kite and he built a sailboat, took me fishing on Kiser Lake. He was there, but he wasn’t. He didn’t want anyone to think he was replacing my biological father, overstepping.”
Nick continues, “Growing up, I spent a lot of time on my maternal grandparents’ corn-and-soybean farm outside of St. Paris, and kids in school knew my father had died in the war. I just imagined what my life would have been like if he hadn’t been killed. I thought we’d have been farming together or in a business together. I think I would have been better psychologically, more motivated to get better educated had he lived.
“My father would have been a hero. I’ve met guys who knew my dad. They say that he was a great Marine, never cussed, was on the front lines all the time, and did everything above the call of duty.”
After high school, Nick felt as if it were his duty to serve in the military, and he volunteered to serve. His mother, however, had other ideas for her son and visited Congressman Clarence Brown to try to get Nick out of the military. Congressman Brown refused to intervene.
Nick was a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy from 1965 until 1969 and served aboard the USS Yorktown. He was stationed at the Nha Be Logistics Support Base in Vietnam where the military mortared and rocketed the Viet Cong across the Soai Rap River, 30 miles from the Cambodian border. He says that his role was “to stay alive and do my job,” which was to refuel and rearm helicopters, make ammo runs to Long Binh Base, and help secure the base with 50 caliber machine guns.
In conclusion, the stories of the men and women who served and of those who gave their lives in service. as well of those who mourn their loss, are worth remembering. This is yet another story.
Thank you, Nick, for your service. And thank you for teaching your beloved daughter, Kelly Mott (1973-2022), my former student at Edison State, to carry forward the tradition of service by volunteering with the Miami Valley Veterans Museum. And thanks to your wife, Darlene Mott, who supports you and serves as a volunteer at that museum. I am grateful.