I had a discussion today with someone who I happen to love very much. It wasn’t an easy discussion. It was actually full of pain for both of us. One comment made was that I, nor anyone else, has walked a mile in another’s shoes.
No I haven’t. And I can’t. I can not do that. Nor, can anyone else walk that proverbial mile, in my shoes.
If I walked a mile in your shoes they would no longer be your shoes. They would be mine. I may be traversing a path you had set upon but my feet will not travel it the same. I will step differently. I will tread heavier, or lighter, or skip when you plod, or slow down where you may sprint. Nor will my heart, my thoughts, and my reactions be identical to yours. And even if I walk with you…
“Koji, don’t let anyone tell you different. War makes good boys do crazy things.”
That was the first time Old Man Jack shared something with me about the war in a voice of unfeigned remorse. In turn, it was one of my first journeys in his time machine in which he allowed me to ride along.
Front row seats. Free of charge.
It was in 2002 to the best of my recollection. It was just before my littlest firecracker was born.
KA-BAR. If you are a World War II US Marine who served on “those stinkin’ islands”, there is no explanation necessary.
A KA-BAR was a Marine’s most prized personal possession. It was always at their side.
They opened their C-rations with it. Dug foxholes with it. Chopped coconut logs with it. Hammered nails with it. Indestructible.
Most importantly, for killing. Designed for slashing and stabbing. Desperate hand-to-hand combat. To the death.
The KA-BAR served them so well that many Marines who survived passed it down to their children.
Old Man Jack said several times, “I’ll tell ya – us white caps always tussled with the Marines ‘cuz they thought they were better than us…but there wasn’t anyone better at protecting your sorry asses with theirs when it came time.”
(If you are prone to nausea, you should not continue to read this Old Man Jack story.)
I did not know this free ride was coming. It was unexpected and spontaneous. I recall that clearly.
That afternoon, he began describing something vile he witnessed during the war. Today, I fully realize he was trying to vomit demons out from his soul.
He needed to.
He didn’t tell me what island; that would be his pattern up until his death. If he was talking about something a young man should never have witnessed, he would never say what island he was on. However, my educated guess as to the year would be late 1943 or early 1944.
Old Man Jack said to the best of my recollection that “…the Japs broke through our perimeter”.
“When the fighting broke out, most of us (the ground crew servicing Marine Corsairs) dove straight into the nearest foxholes. I only had a .45 and I kept my head down except for a dumb ass split second or two…” He tried to mimic what he did by extending his neck a bit and flicking his head left and right.
“All hell was breaking loose. Men were screaming all over the place. You could tell which rounds were from us and which ones were theirs.”
It was all over in a couple of minutes, Jack said. “I did hear moaning then a CRACK from a .45 or a M1…” A Marine apparently dispensed a wounded enemy soldier.
“I got up. There was still a little yelling going on. And I ain’t ashamed to say I started shaking real bad. Then I see this kid (i.e., a Marine) dragging this wounded Jap; he was hit pretty bad but I could tell he was still alive. The Marine grabbed his KA-BAR and sliced open that son-of-a-bitch’s mouth. I could see the Jap was flinching. The kid was trying to gouge out gold (from his teeth).”
Another Marine came over and shot the Jap dead with his .45. The kid yelled, ‘Hey! Why’d you have to go do that for?!’
The other Marine just looked at him for a split second and walked away. I stopped looking.”
Jack then just slowly shook his head.
I remember Old Man Jack was looking down when he finished. He had on a grey sweatshirt as winter was coming on.
Front row seats in his time machine of nightmares. He just forgot to mention it was on his roller coaster he kept hidden inside.
He had other free tickets for me in the years that followed.
I never met Joe Kubert in either of my stints in the comic-book world, but I spoke with him on the phone a few times. Mr. Kubert, a pioneering artist who worked mainly for DC Comics, had started a school for cartooning and graphic arts in Dover, New Jersey. There were two young friends and employees of mine in whom I saw great potential.
I spoke with Mr. Kubert about them both. These conversations were about ten years apart, but Mr. Kubert had the same two questions about the young men I was touting: “Are they good? Will they listen?”
Both young men attended his school to their decided benefit. He and his staff taught them what they needed to know to augment their talent with real-world chops. After a couple of years at the Kubert School, both these young men were not only pro-level cartoonists, but could handle any…