Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Rare Honor

It was a warm sunny afternoon recently as Dragonwife and I walked up to the park shelter where one of the little girls that my daughter attends daycare with was having her birthday party. Miss Wiggles, my daughter, had already ran ahead and joined the gaggle of other four and five year old little girls playing in a sprinkler. Dragonwife and I introduced ourselves to the birthday girl's parents and took a seat at one of the picnic tables under the shelter. After the cake, ice cream, and presents were opened the girls ran off to play and the parents, while watching the kids, were able to kick back some and really talk. Dragonwife was in deep conversation with another mom and I looked up to see this old gentleman standing before me and introducing himself.

He was the great grandfather of the birthday girl and he wanted to tell me how cute my daughter was and how much she looked like a little girl he had tried to take a picture of in China during World War Two. He went on to tell me that he had served in the Air Corp and had first arrived in that theater at Bombay, India. He was an enlisted man serving as a gunner and radio operator on a B-25 bomber. He told me how his unit worked their way up to the Himalaya mountains in military vehicles not really made to operate at such a high altitude, breakdowns were common. But that the officers got fly over the mountains, or "the hump" as he called it, rank had its privileges just as much back then. The enlisted personnel had to drive over them in a convoy which was a logistical nightmare resulting in some issues that endangered the mission after they made it to the location were a base was being setup. The trip over took every ounce of strength he and the other members of his unit had to make it over the mountains. The cold, lack of sleep, and food were issues that not many people these days could handle. But his unit did and went on to run operations against the Japanese deep inside Chinese territory. As a very sad expression came over his face he told me about a little orphan boy his unit had taken in while there and how they had to turn him over to an orphanage after the war ended. I could tell leaving the little boy behind had deeply affected him. When the war ended he and many others went to Shanghai to catch a Liberty ship to come back home. Given what I have read about those hastily constructed tubs sailing back to the states in a Liberty ship was probably an adventure all by itself. We are not talking about a Carnival Cruise ship in any way. But due to sickness he ended up staying sixty days in Honolulu to recover. While recovering he did have a lot of free time and that even in 1945 the beach where Diamond Head is visible was still mostly green vegetation and not the gray concrete of high rise resorts. Before I could even open my mouth he said that seeing pictures of the same place now makes him sad because it truly is a paradise lost because of the over development. His voyage onward to San Francisco was again on a slow Liberty ship which made him wonder why he left Hawaii while crossing the rest of the Pacific. His voyage concluded as he stood on the top deck of the ship and watched as he passed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. He was lucky that he got a chance to fly the rest of the way home and how he spent the next few years getting married and starting a family.

I could tell that there was a strength to this man that is missing from a lot of people in this country these days. Growing up during the Depression and then having to fight in some of the worst conditions a person could find himself. Don't believe me? Try going from a flat, low altitude area and then go for a short run in say Colorado Springs like I did after just a few days there from my time serving in the army at Fort Carson. That short run felt like it would kill me, and that was just close to the Rocky mountains. His unit had to drive over the Himalaya mountains.

I could have listened to him far longer but the party ended and his lovely wife was ready to go home. It was a true honor to meet that man and hear his stories about a world and a people that are long gone.

12 comments:

Mike said...

Those guys truly were a different breed and we owe them a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.

C.Rag said...

I miss hearing the my grandparents & great uncle stories about the Depression & WWII. Since I was a child listening to them, I wish I could have asked & learned more.

lime said...

an honor indeed. part of why i miss my grandparents so much. they were of that generation.

when i was in pearl harbor though i met a gentleman who had been a survivor of the attack. all these years later he welled up and his voice broke when he told how it was three months before word got to his mother that he had survived the attack. we just have no idea.

Preposterous Ponderings said...

I think old people are fun to listen to.

One day some youngin will listening to what we have to say and be in awe at it all. I hope!

If I talk to them like I do on my blog then more than likely they will be in shock.LOL

Colonel Colonel said...

That's a great story. Whenever I try to start comparing what that generation went through to the present day my blood pressure quickly hits to "Overload" level.

My dad was born in 1927 and enlisted in the Navy in that war at age 17 (he lied about his age to get in a year early. He served in fleet tugs, an aircraft carrier and subs before the war ended). My wife's favorite uncle was a Harvard grad, and as such was not supposed to see front line duty, but as a press officer in the 8th Air Force in England, felt that he needed to fly missions over Europe to be able to really do his job. No, he didn't have to fly 25 missions, as so many did, but he did fly two (very hairy) missions from a sense of duty.

Here's my thing- when I began this "Col.Col." thing it was on an email list back before we were sending folks into war again. The first "Col." was really a tip of that hat to southern auctioneers who always denote themselves as "Colonel". When I began the blog I thought of that, and of "Major Major" from "Catch-22". It seemed an apt i.d., denoting my own idiocy.

Now we are bringing more dead soldiers back daily, and I have to admit, sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, especially around such folks who have served as yourself. Do you find it offensive? I've been thinking about changing it. I dunno...

joan said...

So many of the gentlemen I work with could be adventure movies. Amazing life stories so many of them have. I can listen to these tales forever.

The Zombieslayer said...

Oh man. I love talking to people in that generation because they have the coolest stories.

Yeah, I believe you about the Himalayas and the lack of air. There's nothing like that feeling of spending the year in California, then the summer in Colorado Springs. That first night, my friends want to play hide and go seek and I noticed getting winded fast. You get used to it though within a week, or at least I did as a kid.

We have a Liberty Ship docked in San Francisco. It offers cruises up the Sacramento River several times a year. It was saved from the recycling bin (we call it the Mothball Fleet) that sits in the Delta and gets scrapped one ship at a time.

The people who run the ships are older and love to tell you stories if you're willing to listen. The engine technology is from the 1880s, and they're actually good ships, but like you said, they were hastily made. The thing is, Americans put their heart and soul into building whatever they built back then and with some good loving, those ships can last another 100 years easily.

Keshi said...

wut a great post BB. It shows how much respect u hv for older ppl. Im very proud of ya.

Also, I love the company of seniors...they r so enjoyable to hang ard with and I love listening to their precious stories. Especially WW stories...


Keshi.

Beach Bum said...

Mike: Everytime I hear a WW2 vet speak or read something one wrote I am always struck in near awe about the strength that courage they show. We are generally a much smaller and spoiled people wrapped up in our own selfish lives and fears.

C. Rag: The same here with my grandparents. I heard so many stories from them that I have forgotten that should have been recorded in some way that I feel I have lost a real treasure.

Lime: Its hard for even people our age to imagine how long it took word of something to get around even in the US back then. Compound it with the chaos of war and crossing an ocean Pearl Harbor might have well been another planet. You are right, we have no idea.

Preposterous Ponderings: My son blows me off now unless I threaten to take away his Wii. I may be in my 80's before he ever listens to me again.

Colonel: Hell no, DON't change a thing. Speaking of the 8th Air Force, there is a museum for the mighty 8th outside Savannah, Georgia and it is awesome. The kids and I did it one time during a trip to Hilton Head and we will be going back. Catch 22, I need to read it again, but that is a whole other post.

Joan: Its been a good while but I rememeber hearing something about a WW2 reunion be held on the Yorktown at Patriots Point. As it could have been expected I missed the event but I try keep up with such events hoping to make it down one time. There were to be quite a few stories being told by people who served in that war. Like you wrote I could listen to such stories forever.

ZombieSlayer: A cruise on a Liberty ship? That would be a fantasic adventure. The WW2 vet I talked with described how crowded his two voyages were coming home on them and how the main idea was just to get everyone back as fast as possible. While you are right that they were built to last he did relate how he and the others on the ships coming home had their reservations about the ships.

Keshi: I have found that many of the older people I have been involved with generally take a calmer, saner approach to life than many others do. In others words they don't sweat the small stuff. That is just so cool.

Keshi said...

** In others words they don't sweat the small stuff

yep..thats cos they know what LIFE is after all those years...

Keshi.

MadMike said...

Colonel I agree with Beach; change nothing. The stories of your family are remarkably similar to the life of my father, both people rolled into one U.S. Navy Senior Chief, also stationed in England where he met the Mrs. and then I came along......

Wonderful story here Beach.

Melvin said...

That's great story...
thanks for sharing...


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Melvin
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