Through a son’s eyes
Speer: ‘War just stays with you for awhile’
What does war do to a man, and how does building a family after spending years fighting for your life change things for a father?
Wayne Speer, a WWII Pacific combat veteran, joined the U.S. Army Jan. 1, 1943, and served as First Sergeant until Feb. 6, 1946.
Speer died on Oct. 31, 2003, and since then, his son Keith Speer, has told his father’s story to the best of his ability.
Keith Speer was born in 1965, so his father had been out of the service for nearly 20 years when he was born.
Speer didn’t wait for his father to come back home, or wait for letters to come that told him his father was safe and alive. But, he was raised by a man who saw the worst of WWII during his service.
Keith Speer said his father never really mentioned any explicit details of his time in the war.
“I always wondered why he didn’t talk about it, until I talked to another vet who explained it to me,” he said. “He told me that the guys who won’t talk about the war are the ones who saw the worst parts of it.”
Sometimes, Wayne Speer would talk about funny things that happened, but he never spoke about anything serious.
“He told us about some of the equipment and guns, but we never heard about killing or death,” Speer said. “Some of those men saw some truly horrible things, and I think they tried to forget it as much as possible.”
Speer has a sword that his father took off a Japanese officer and brought back home with him after the war.
“The sword has a bullet path all the way up the handle,” he said. “I asked him once if it was his bullet that he shot, his response was simply that we were not going to talk about it.”
As a family, Keith and his mother tried to understand Wayne, but he was very reluctant to talk about the war.
“Mom told me once that the war just stays with you for awhile,” he said. “She said that he would just jump up in the middle of the night stomping his feet. In his mind, even years after the war, he was still there sometimes.”
Speer said by the time he was born, most of the war was out of his father and he didn’t see much of it.
“I remember that he never liked guns or hunting,” he said. “He always told me that he had done enough shooting in the war.”
Speer still has his father’s uniforms and medals.
“He has a Philippine Liberation ribbon with one star and a good conduct medal, and I have the sword now, it was on display at a barber shop on the square for years,” he said. “Even his medals he never talked about to us. It was just a different part of him that he didn’t talk about.”
Speer never went into the military, but his son did join the National Guard.
“I think dad had some influence on my son’s decision,” he said. “My son is pretty partial to dad’s military stuff.”
Speer has some advice for family members of current service members.
“Send them boxes of things; we did that with my son,” he said. “I would send him a bottle of water from Roaring River, or a leaf from the tree in the yard with a description of what it was and exactly where it came from. That helps the person that is far away from home be at home in a way, my son told me it made him feel not so far away at times.”
From photos of his father, Speer knows that his father spent a lot of time in the jungle during the war, and that he saw a lot of combat.
“Dad was from a large farm in the Oklahoma panhandle,” he said. “When he came back from the war and went home, there was nothing but flat land all around him for miles, he didn’t like that.”
Wayne Speer’s brother moved to Seligman, and he followed shortly after and bought a farm.
“He said in the war he was surrounded by trees and running water,” Speer said. “Then, he came to Cassville and that is what he first noticed, and he decided to settle down here.”
Speer said his father was probably one of the first to harvest fescue seed.
“He would combine it, and through the winter he would clean the seed to get grass started,” he said. “We farmed together until he passed away.”
Speer remembers his father as a do-it-yourself kind of man.
“He taught me that, and how to work on things,” he said. “It came natural to me to go into a field where I fix things.”
Keith Speer is the owner of Repairs Unlimited in Cassville.
“My father really was one hell of a man,” Speer said.