GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A day after graduating Creston High School in Grand Rapids, 17-year-old Donovan Joslin enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was soon shipped off to the South Pacific, stationed behind a 20 mm gun on board a minesweeper.
He was introduced to the bloody realities of war almost immediately.
“I think I grew up fast,” the retired seaman first class recently told News 8.
The year was 1944 and World War II in the Pacific theater was inching toward its violent climax.
“A suicide plane came in and it hit one of the transports and it threw a bunch of sailors in the sea. And we couldn’t save them because we had to take care of the fire … on the two ships that was damaged, got hit by the suicide plane,” Joslin recalled, pausing as he became emotional. “That was my first realization that war was war.”
Twice his ship was hit by torpedoes that did not explode. Another time, a bomb hit the ship but miraculously didn’t detonate.
Joslin’s ship escorted the battleship USS Missouri to Iwo Jima for the monthlong battle that claimed nearly 7,000 American lives. He was there to see Marines raise the flag, as depicted in the Iwo Jima Memorial, a monument Joslin has visited to pay tribute to those who didn’t come home.
“I went there to pray for so many of my fellow soldiers that didn’t make it,” a somber Joslin said.
Joslin tried to put the war behind him when he came home to work as a machinist and later moved to management. He married his wife Jacqueline, a union that lasted 72 years until her death just last year at the age of 90.
But sadly, one of the realities of the so-called “good war” on the greatest generation was the psychological and mental costs that were initially dismissed or glossed over.
“You want me to tell you what they said to me when I came home? They said, ‘Go home, grow up and be a man.’ I did that. But I still had (PTSD) all my life,” Joslin said.
Joslin was ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, 75 years later, the images of war still come back to him, especially at night. The memories are not simply confined to a history book, but very real images of the pain and suffering of war.
He is adamant he doesn’t consider himself a hero. He thinks of himself as just a kid from Creston High, part of a generation that came together to sacrifice what they could to make the world a better place.