“Whadya want him for?!” he asked with hostility. It was 2009, nine years into my search, and I had befriended some of the guys my dad fought with. When a few of them died, it was like losing my own father again. Now I had worked my way down the roster to Rosplock, who lived a few hours away from my home in New York City.
I told Rosplock what I’d learned about the man in the photo with my dad: His name was Herman Walter Mulligan, and he was killed on May 30, 1945, after he threw a grenade into a tomb on Hill 27 near the city of Naha on Okinawa. Enemy machine gunners were believed to be inside. But the crypt actually concealed a ton of Japanese munitions. It blew up.
There was a long silence.
“I was there.”
Rosplock spoke in nearly a whisper. There was tremendous pain in his words—about the explosion, about his life. Rosplock had watched as a three-foot piece of the tomb’s roof landed on Mulligan. He’d carried Mulligan’s body to a truck.
We began a long phone friendship—often we’d talk for two hours. And he’d send e-mails, sometimes at 2 a.m. I wanted to visit him in person, but Rosplock wouldn’t have it. The phone was like a confessional, each of us remaining disembodied voices. Maybe that enabled us to be more honest.
Rosplock told me that, unlike my father, he was sent away to get help after the tomb blast. “For weeks, the only thing we did was quilting. If it weren’t for that, I probably would have lost my marbles. For a long time, if somebody just whispered behind my ear, I’d jump a mile high.”
During another call, Rosplock said, “Oh, Dale, I love you. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.” I said I loved him back and assured him that he was helping. After our conversations, he sometimes had nightmares about the war.
“I don’t want you to feel that you cause any bad memories coming back to me,” he said when I expressed concern. “I want to thank you. See, you have made me feel better because you let me talk about things that I never told anybody else.”
As each man I contacted recounted painful details of the horror they’d endured, I felt as though I were talking with my father. Not only were these men similar to him in demeanor—a tad gruff, yet also friendly—but they had experienced the same things.
“Oh, I wish I coulda seen Steve one more time,” a man named George Popovich said to me over the phone. “Did he tell you about the Japanese cave, the time we went in and ate their food? Ate tangerines, shrimp in cans. And we drank their sake.” Of course my father hadn’t told me that. Popovich died before I could meet him in person.