A father's role in World War II remembered on this Veterans Day

Sunday, November 11, 2012
Sandy Cato holds her father’s, U.S. Navy veteran Ale Cato, hat from when he was in the service from 1944 to 1946. Ale Cato served in the Pacific during World War II.

When Ale Cato left the Bollinger County farming community of Greenbrier, Mo., to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he thought he'd never get back to the farm.

"Dad had the same feelings that a lot of men had when they shipped out," Sandy Cato said. "He wasn't alone."

Ale Cato did return from the war after being honorably discharged in 1946 after two years in the Pacific. Like many who served, he came home with a sense of purpose, marrying his high-school sweetheart and turning his attention toward providing for his wife and, eventually, their four daughters.

His third daughter, Sandy Cato, 60, of Cape Girardeau, said her dad never spoke much about his wartime experiences.

"He just came back from it," she said. "I know he was proud of his service, but after the war he became an engineer and turned into a workaholic. His work came first. He loved it."

A photo of World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ale Cato's hat from when he was in the service from 1944-46. (Laura Simon)

But Sandy Cato never has forgotten something Ale Cato would say from time to time.

"He said, ‘Boys went to war and came back men.'"

His greatest legacy, she said, were the values he instilled in his family. Those values were tied to his service and sacrifice and what he witnessed during conflict.

Cato always could hold his head high after he returned home after the war. He succeeded in his next role as a husband and father, just as he had as a sailor. And he always remembered the great sacrifices made by the men who fought for America's freedom.

He held various offices as a member of American Legion posts in Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Mo. His wife Betty, who died in 2008, also was a member of the American Legion posts and served as president of the Missouri Veterans Home Foundation Board from 2002 to 2005.

"Dad instilled patriotism in his children and grandkids," Sandy Cato said. "He taught us respect for the flag and to stand proud during the Pledge of Allegiance. His daughters were the last ones you'd see cutting up or goofing off during the Pledge."

There were millions of American boys who came back as men after serving in World War II. Approximately 16 million men and women were in uniform from 1941 to 1945. According to statistics from Veterans Affairs, only 1.5 million of them are still alive, and they are dying at a rate of 680 per day.

Ale Cato passed away in May at age 87. He was an engineer who moved his family around the state while working for the Missouri Department of Transportation. He served as main engineer of the department's construction units from 1960 to 1972, and worked for private contractors after leaving the department. He retired from engineering in 1998.

"Dad said he was the last person hired by the highway department who didn't have an engineering degree," Sandy Cato said. "He was so proud of that."

During World War II, her father served in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines as a tugboat coxswain, a duty that involved delivering services and supplies to the larger ships in the U.S. fleet, one of which was the U.S.S. Missouri. He arrived in the Philippines in 1944, not long after Gen. Douglas MacArthur made his triumphant return to the Philippine Islands. By then, though, the Japanese were growing desperate and initiated devastating kamikaze raids on American positions in the Pacific.

"Dad would sometimes talk about what he had seen when he was over there," Sandy Cato said. "But I always felt he had seen a lot more than he let on. He said he and others in his crew were always worried about kamikaze pilots attacking our ships in the Leyte Gulf, and I believe he saw a lot of that up close. It had to be such a dangerous time."

But she said the war also provided recreation for her father and his shipmates.

"He spoke of the time he and the crew had the day off, and they took a boat to a nearby island that they thought was uninhabited. Not long after they got there, somebody saw the natives on the island peering at them through the trees and brush. They left quickly, I was told."

Cato served his country honorably during the war, just like his two older brothers. His brother Dale flew with a bomber crew in the U.S. Army Air Corps that was shot down over Germany, resulting in his stay in a POW camp. His oldest brother Truman served in the U.S. Army under the command of Gen. George S. Patton.

"His brothers were highly decorated," Sandy Cato said. "I think dad had a touch of envy when it came to his role in the war versus theirs. It was part of that brotherly competition they had while growing up. But he served exceptionally with tasks he was assigned. No one can take that away from him."

Cato actually had the option of not serving when World War II was raging.

"He was the last son of a farming family," Sandy Cato explained. "His job on the farm was essential to the war effort. He could've sat out the war, but he didn't. There was no way he could've held his head high if he didn't serve. Besides, his father -- my grandfather -- told him that he had two sons fighting in the war and he was going to be the next one. That ended that."

Sandy Cato deeply misses her father, but talking about his days as a fighting sailor helps her get through the grieving process, particularly around Veterans Day. However, she stressed her story isn't just about her father.

"When I think of my father, I think of bravery, country and patriotism," she said. "He was so strong emotionally and physically. But his story is also that of my uncles. It's also that of the friends and neighbors of my dad's who also went off to war. It's of the veterans -- both men and women -- who have fought in every war this country has had. My dad would want it to be that way."



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