Frank Budnick remembers the shock after stepping off his ship in Seattle.
A few months after being in Yokohama Harbor to witness the Japanese surrender on the battleship USS Missouri that ended World War II, the Lowell native had been shipped home to the States. But upon returning, Budnick, who participated in the battles for the Japanese islands of Tarawa and Saipan, said he was stunned with what he saw after three years in the Pacific.
“It was shocking; I had a hard time just walking around and seeing everything so new,” said Budnick, while attending a dinner at Northview High School honoring veterans. “It was a different world.”
Budnick said he was struck by all the changes, from women wearing new clothing styles to automobiles he had never seen or food he’d never tasted. He was also impressed by the appreciation of the American public for veterans like him, even if it was different from the kind today’s veterans receive after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Appreciating our veterans was exactly the point of the dinner, said Northview Student Council President Iris Johnson. She got the idea for the dinner after attending a similar event at the Amway Grand last year, and said the council decided it needed to do something on its own to honor veterans.
“Something simple,” Iris said. “We wanted to thank them. I know for me, I appreciate them and I feel strongly about it.”
About 50 veterans attended the dinner, held in the school cafeteria prior to a Northview basketball game.
Adviser Julie Haveman said she’s proud of the council’s desire to help veterans, if only for a couple hours.
“We’re a service-driven organization that’s not about us,” Haveman said. “It’s about what we can do for others.”
‘We Were Glad to Do This’
Budnick said he was grateful to see this kind of appreciation shown to vets, which he feels deteriorated after Vietnam. He turns 100 in July.
Budnick served as a seaplane tender on the USS Mackinac after leaving his Lowell farm in 1943. He eventually wound up landing on Tarawa atoll, where the fighting was so fierce “when I got up in the morning the water was red.”
Later he was part of the awful cleanup detail at the Battle of Saipan in the summer of 1944, which killed approximately 3,000 Americans and some 30,000 Japanese. “A mess,” he said.
He said he left the service to find no immediate job, had to walk to the hospital to have his appendix removed, and found it hard at times to forget what he’d seen in the Pacific. All Budnick knew for sure was that he was glad to be home.
“When I got out there wasn’t that much (hoopla), but now I think there is,” he said. “It’s changed a lot. I think they appreciate veterans more now. I strongly believe in honoring veterans. We were glad to do this.”
Another veteran at the dinner was 100-year-old Ira Spieker, a former Marine major who served in the Pacific. He was later stationed in Guam and worked on the atomic bomb project in the New Mexico desert.
Like Budnick, Spieker said he appreciated the interest and compassion shown to America’s veterans.
“It made you feel like you did something,” he said.