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.
Old Spice (Literally) - I was re-shelving books in the library yesterday when I came across this little plastic tiger on one of our shelves. How it got there, I have no idea. It...
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