Over the weekend my family and I traveled down to Moab, Utah to spend a little time together. We also went to go and visit my Great Uncle Mel Dalton (he is my Grandmother’s brother). My Great Uncle Mel is 94 years old and he has lived an incredible life. Over the last year I’ve been reading some of Mel’s life history he’s written and it’s given me an even deeper appreciation for all he has gone through in his life. It’s also given me a better appreciation for how much this world has changed since he came into this world and all the things he has witnessed firsthand. He has so much wisdom from all those experiences and I wanted my two children and my husband to meet my Uncle Mel while he is still able to tell them stories from his life personally.
To give you a little background, my Great Uncle Mel is a WWII Vet. There aren’t many of them still alive these days so to get the chance to talk to someone who lived through that war and then who has had all the life experiences he has is a huge blessing.
Mel was attending BYU on a full ride football scholarship when he decided to join the US Marine Corp to fight in WWII. My Great Grandparents were supportive of him going but it was difficult on them, especially on his mother as she was working at the courthouse at the time and a part of her job was to open the letters that came to notify the families when their son had been killed in the war. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for her each time she opened one of those letters, each time wondering if she would see her own son’s name. There were 8 different letters that came to Moab during his service to notify the families of the boys that had been killed. Fortunately my Great Uncle’s name wasn’t in any of those letters. But he came so close to being one of them it is incredible he survived.
Mel had grown up shooting guns and hunting in the mountains around Moab and he was an amazing sharp shooter, so when he joined the Marines during WWII he was assigned to be a machine gun operator aboard the USS California. He was involved in The Battle of Surigao Straits, which was the last major naval war the world would ever see with battleship vs battleship. His life was in danger many times but he shared in an interview for the Veterans History Project “The closest I ever got to getting killed or hurt was when the suicide plane hit our ship. I was right smack where they hit. Both of my ammunition carriers were killed. I had two men assigned to my gun just to carry the magazines of ammunition. Each magazine had 100 rounds in it and it wouldn’t take you very long to shoot 100 rounds. There they were with another to slap in your gun. This got both of them and hardly touched me. That’s just the way things go. I’ve heard a hundred people say, “why me?” and I guess we just don’t know the answers to some of that.”
After three years on the USS California he returned home and went on to get married. He later became the Chief of Police in Moab and then he served two terms in the State Legislature. He continued to be an avid hunter and I’d venture to guess that no one knows those La Sal Mountains and the surrounding areas better than Uncle Mel. He has a true love of the land and a serious respect for it.
During our visit we were able to sit down in Mel’s home and ask him for advice from his life experiences.
When we asked what advice he had for our son, who got married a year and a half ago and who will be a father himself in August, Uncle Mel laughed out loud and said “It’s every man for himself!”
When we asked what was one important thing his 94 years of life had taught him he answered “Nothing matters more in life than your family. When things get tough in life it will always be your family that is there for you. Everyone else will come and go bur your family will be there forever so love them and spend time with ‘em cause your family matters most.” I couldn’t agree more with that myself.
I’m thankful for the example Great Uncle Mel has set for me and my family and I’m grateful we had this weekend to spend truly quality time together.
~Amy Rees Anderson