William Jordan Verbeck, eulogy
by Kenwood Ross
Yet even to this last overwhelming enemy, William Jordan Verbeck allowed no clear decisive victory. For three years, we grievingly stood the helpless watch, overwhelmed by the tenacity of the warrior as he wrestled in the agony of his last fight. In his life, he was exceptional; in his death, he was inspirational.
We, who loved him unreservedly, are borne up and comforted by the inquenchable (sic) faith that the hands of Heaven have embraced him into that higher, nobler realm where his pain and anguish are no more.
It is said that Sir Winston Churchill, when once asked why he did not withdraw and rest upon his laurels, replied: "I leave when the pub closes." William Verbeck knew that "the pub" was closing as long ago as last January. A few days later, he wrote: "I was informed on the 19th that I could last for five more months. If I do not lose ground, I shall show up on Oahu. Be seeing you. Loyally, Bill." The five months were extended to nine, almost ten, and we are want to reflect upon this stretching of the rubber of life as being almost the doing of Bill himself, alone.
"Never give in!", he said to his Gimlets on Mindoro as they readied for Mindanao, "Never, never, never." This was the credo which served him more than passing well in a long career of distinction, which kept him here among us for some thirty six months after the dreadful diagnosis that "the big C" had his name, rank and serial number. That dauntlessness we knew so well reflected itself, from his deathbed, in the resilience with which he battled for life.
Once, in a seeming lull in the last fight, he found the heart and will to encourage with: "Unfix bayonets, boys; we don't need to charge." For him, it was but another campaign and he gave it his usual extraordinary ferocity of purpose.
Now, only legend remains; and Bill Verbeck's legend is as secure as that of any hero who fought and triumphed over evil.
Brave soldier - Respected leader - Devoted friend - Gay companion - Graceful host -Bill Verbeck was all of these.
Here was a man born to battle and great events as ordinary men are born to ledgers, adding machines, and Rotary luncheons. Here was a master of the engines and techniques of war, yet so human and humane that he could be overcome with emotion and tears in the presence of valor or courage, even just plain thoughtfulness, in others.
He served his country with dedication, devotion, imagination. He followed his own personal star: "Duty, Honor, Country" was the guide line by which he measured his career. Duty was an obsession, unsurpassed by that of any patriot whose name glows from the pages of history. Dedication to peace and liberty was his basic theme, exemplified by a fierce opposition to the forces of tyranny and injustice.
Detached from the business ethos, he was committed to soldiering, devoted thereto, but never enslaved by it. He was an archetypical avatar of the vivacious, fascinating military man risen to eminence among the leaders of the service he adopted. Serene in the exercise of power, he was intent on its use only for the ends of human freedom. Overflowing with an almost careless confidence, when life was filled with trouble, he exuded a faith that action and passion could overcome it.
He was complex in the respect that he was torn by fierce hates and fiercer loyalties. Of the friendships, they ranged the world, from Wall Street bankers to Davao bartenders, for he loved people. His bitterest anger was directed against fanatics of the far left or far right who would do his country harm. With equal fervor, he hated all phonies, of whatever stripe.
We respected him, admired him, loved him - and such was his magic that men were proud even to have been his adversary. Forgive us this personalization of a eulogy. One story bears out the point that he was respected by the foe. We would repeat that which many of you heard us say on the convention rostrum 15 months ago. For many of us, there was that dreadful fear that Boston would be Bill's last reunion - and it was. Hence, to him, a presentation, which we were privileged to make in the Association's behalf, with words along the lines of:
"My mind hearkens back tonight to the many times I heard General Jimmy Lester tell this story I beg to share with you. It was the story of his one and only conversation with General Yamashita, the 'Butcher of the Philippines.' Between sessions of Yamashita's trial in Manila, of which Lester was a court member, our Jimmy found an opportune moment in which to speak to the Butcher and ask of him a pregnant question: 'When did Japan lose the war?' And Yamashita's answer: 'The War of Japan was lost in the Campaign of the Philippines, and the Campaign of the Philippines was lost in the Battle of Leyte, and the Battle of Leyte was lost in the skirmish on Breakneck Ridge, and the skirmish on Breakneck Ridge was lost to your Colonel Verbeck'."
This was much that was contagious about Bill Verbeck and Yamashita, like others, was a carrier. There was an aura of the beau sabeur about Bill. He was born to the limelight and trained for greatness. Had we lived together centuries ago, he would have been the one of us who would have charged about the world - a knight errant slaying dragons.
One side of his life may not be properly emphasized in the elegies and paeans of today. It relates to his days, the bright ones and then the dark ones, with the lovely lady who was his devoted companion, and more, was the force that sustained him in his hours of pain. Important was the part she played in balancing his lion's heart. Deep was his love for her, so deep as to prompt him to write not too long ago: "You know this may seem like attempted heroics, but my only worry, when the people here are not very optimistic, is Peggy. The whole world can do very nicely without me, but I like to think that she needs me."
To his men, he was a hero, perhaps because he felt so humble in the presence of those who followed his orders, bid his command. His loyalty to his men was boundless, as was theirs to him. They were simpatico. His interest in his men went beyond mere professional help; he nursed them through their aches, pains, problems, troubles. He would have made a terrific Chaplain. Men felt impelled to pour out their hearts to him. They knew they could trust him absolutely.
He well knew that fighting is travail, that soldiering is a lonely trade, that warriors as a breed, for all their superficial arrogance, are tremulous men who welter in an agony of self-doubt. Such understanding stood him in good stead in working with the warriors who were his. These warriors admired him for his generalship, his competance (sic), his keen military sense, his uncanny intuition, his restless energy, his honesty, his fairness; but they loved him for his gentleness. First above all, it was the gentleness that enshrined him forever in their hearts.
Absurdly, we had grown to think of him as going on forever, because he embodied certain qualities that put us in mind of permanence. His last fight was a holding action and so great was his muster of courage and fortitude that, in our hearts, we were coming to think of him as invincible. And now we have been brought to the abrupt realization that continuation was but a wish.
Bill has departed - but in his very departure he could still evoke high emotions. Some of his bearers, ramrod stiff generals, classmates all, were seen to fight back tears as we stood by his last resting place in final tribute. Taro Leafers too, civilians once again, who took the time to journey from all corners to make with him the last walk, were seen to fight complete and public breakdown, as "the pub" closed.
And now he has gone to labor in the larger vineyard of eternal life. The men who loved him, leaned on him, and learned from him, drink to his memory.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 29(4) 1965-1966.