Memorial Day is upon us yet again. It’s an important day, not just because it’s one that gives the working men and women another day off, but for what it really signifies.

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, to honor the fathers and sons who lost their lives in combat, and yes, those nurses who were left behind at Corregidor, to spend four years in Japanese prisons.

But you can learn all about that now by reading the books.

I remember the old men on the porches of what were called “Soldier’s Homes,” who called it “Decoration Day.”

That’s another story, part of another hundred-million war stories.

This is mine. I was a bright, inquisitive 9-year-old on Dec. 7, 1941, when the news came across our old Zenith living room radio. Pearl Harbor meant nothing to me, but to my mother, who fell back on the couch in a dead faint, it did. She and the rest of the family knew that my brother Matt (Bud) was there, and had been for a year.


Bud survived to fight again, heroically across the Pacific.

Pictures of the war punctured the newsreels at the Michigan Avenue movie house, scary ones that interrupted the cartoons and Saturday serials. And on it went, and then was over.

The Devines across from the convent on Minnesota Avenue were lucky. All my brothers came home visibly unscathed, looking the same, but deeply changed.

J.P. Devine’s family is seen in this undated photo, at top from left, sister Eileen, brother Bud, brother Jim, and sister Rita; bottom, brother Kermit, J.P., his mother, his father, his baby sister and brother Kevin. The Devines across from the convent on Minnesota Avenue were lucky. J.P. says all of his brothers served in the military and came home visibly unscathed but deeply changed. Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

Across the river in Illinois, the news was not good. Billy Devine, handsome young guitar-strumming cousin, was aboard a submarine that went missing, never to be found.

George Wunder, a curly-headed best friend of brother Bud, who at the start of the war came home with Bud for a precious few days, was later in a battle, blown off the bridge of the cruiser New Orleans by a Japanese torpedo.

The story, told later by shipmates, was that Bud, a master swimmer, dived in to rescue him. Bud was only inches away when a steel girder from the ship took the curly-headed boy from Colorado down.


Shipmates said that even as the attack continued, Bud stayed in the burning water, searching for his friend.

I recall the parades, the flags and joy. But mostly as I grew up, I remember the human debris of war that began with the grateful joyous homecomings of the once four soccer-playing, Saturday night dancing, Irish handsome boys who — along with my sisters at my baptism — passed me down the pew, from one to the other, kissing the forehead on their fifth brother’s special day.

Kermit, who spent the war with his brother Kenny running troops to the beaches in the Pacific, now sat for long months after in my mother’s bedroom shaking with malaria, while she covered him with blankets and fed him tea as I sat at his feet watching.

Jim, who before the war had become a singer, left soon after that for New York to audition for the Metropolitan Opera.

He was offered 50 bucks a day to hold a spear. Disillusioned, he came home to sing at everyone’s wedding, and painted houses.

Bud, the oldest, my dad’s favorite, who had seen his dearest friend vanish only inches from his grasp, came home for a couple of weeks, sat on the back porch quietly smoking and drinking. And then one day left for the Bremerton Navy Yards to build new peacetime ships. He never came home again.


Bud married in Bellevue, Washington, spent the rest of his life drinking heavily, slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow, until he died of cancer.

At the end, his ashes were scattered into the Pacific at San Diego Harbor, where finally he reached George Wunder’s hand.

That’s what I remember: the memory of four soccer-playing, handsome Irish brothers who, at my baptism, passed me, one to the other across the pew, never even guessing that one day, that baby, born with a magical memory, would write their stories in the Irish way — extolling their adventures, but keeping their pain and secrets hidden in my heart.

Our grandparents, Irish born, would say in “the Irish”: “May they rest in peace until the break of day.”

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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