Two Old Keys to Memorial Day

2014-05-21-12-17-02
Old Man Jack entrusted me with his house keys “…in case he shot himself in the foot” as he put it. Now covered in dust is Old Man Jack’s favorite baby – the F4U Corsair albeit a toy. He would push that button in once in a while, listen to this toy’s engine sound and watch the prop spin… It would echo a bit in my hallway…

I looked at these two old keys in my hand.  They belonged to Old Man Jack and the thought of Memorial Day instantly crossed my mind.

Two old keys to Memorial Day.

__________________________

A year ago, I had written a blog about Memorial Day (“It” and Memorial Day).

At times, I feel the meaning of Memorial Day has either faded or has changed.

In essence, many people living in today’s “politically correct” society have taken the sacrifices of our fallen to mean a three day weekend.

Sad…but that’s how I feel.. and it angers me.

__________________________

When I looked at those two keys, my mind raced to some of the things Old Man Jack said.

But mostly, to the things he could not say.

In the twelve years I was honored to know him, he would abruptly blurt out something once in a while when we were talking in his garage… while sitting in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his wife.

There was no story associated with these mutterings.

“Boys got killed on those stinkin’ islands…” then raise his thick, white eyebrows.

Or, “Hell, I pissed in my pants.”

Or once in a while, he would make a muffled smack with his lips then slowly shake his head left and right… and not say anything more.

_________________________

One such utterance was mentioned in “Old Man Jack’s Love”.

Upon gazing upon his beloved Corsair in front of him after over 60 years, he began weeping.

sketch
Ground crew working on a Corsair in heavy rain.

After recovering and meandering next to his plane, he simply let out, “Some of (the pilots) just didn’t come back.  I could never stop thinking, ‘Did a Jap get him… or was it me?’”

He said that because as Ground Crew Chief, he was responsible for the airworthiness of the plane a young Navy or Marine pilot would take out on a mission…to shoot at the enemy…or be shot at.  These planes had to be in the best fighting condition as lives depended on it.  But he frequently said “they had to make do” because they never had enough spare parts… so they HAD to improvise.

One time, he said a bushing had been shot out on a plane that had to go on a mission the next morning.  Old Man Jack did what he could.  What he must.  He soaked two pieces of coconut logs in engine oil overnight.  When it came time for the pilot to take off, he clamped the oil soaked wood around the cabling and used baling wire to clamp them together as tightly as he could.  The plane left on its mission – with the young pilot behind the stick…in a plane with oil soaked coconut log as a bushing.

Unbelievable.

Now perhaps you understand the depth of his utterance of, “…or was it me?”

_________________________

11588442153_2dec5b0551_o
Old Glory shimmering off a P-51 Mustang at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum.

I will never have an answer because the question could never have been asked of him.

But I feel Old Man Jack carried tremendous guilt in his heart about something that happened on those stinkin’ islands.

Not just bad; real bad.

Deep down, my heart tugs at me that someone within Old Man Jack’s reach died that shouldn’t have… and that Old Man Jack feels personally responsible for his death… and he carried that anguish for all these years.

Torment.

Grief.

Guilt.

_______________________

As Old Man Jack said, some of the young pilots didn’t come back.

They were killed or are forever missing in action.

That is for whom Memorial Day is all about.

To remember and honor those that did not come back…and not a Memorial Day sale.

Two old keys to Memorial Day…

51 thoughts on “Two Old Keys to Memorial Day”

  1. Truly exceptional, Koji. You make me feel as though I knew Jack, too. The sadness of his passing is offset, however, by the fact that he made an important contribution to who we are today … and the evidence for this is that we are still discussing him today. And miss him.

    1. I shed a tear each time I think of him… I really miss him yelling at me from his garage across the street, “Young man, get your butt over here and sit down…”

      Thank you, sir.

  2. Thanks for reminding us about Jack, Koji, and all of the others who deserve to be remembered on Memorial Day. As always, you are a powerful voice. You were lucky to have Jack as a friend, but I feel Jack knew how lucky he was as well. -Curt

  3. Lest we forget my friend.
    On ne doit jamais oublier.

    I know how much meeting Old Man Jack has ment to you.

    I am meeting a veteran every Monday whenever it’s possible.
    I will do the impossible to see him because I know someday it will be impossible.

    Old Man Jack is still and forever will be with us thanks to you.

    Footnote
    I will tell my veteran about Old Man Jack.

      1. I visited Jean Baptiste Normand Roy’s little girl yesterday. She’s is now 70 and looks like her father. He never saw her little girl, and she never saw him… only on pictures.

  4. I know I gave you this suggestion before, and I know you are thinking about it.

    The stories I had stumbled upon while writing Lest We Forget deserved more than being just articles lost on a blog with so many other stories or subjects. So I felt compelled to create new blogs…

    From Lest We Forget was created 23 Squadron which led to 403 Squadron… the list is too long to explain how I got to create all of them.

    Some of these blogs don’t have many posts. That was not the mission. I don’t really care about how many posts I have on each blog. Some lay dormant waiting for someone to write a comment.

    What keeps me going…?

    A comment like this one I had this morning when I opened my old 13 year-old laptop running now on Ubuntu.

    http://rcaf403squadron.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/henry-percy-duval-redux/

    About the veteran I meet every Monday…

    He has his own blog since 2010. It pays homage first to his squadron. I had to convince him to let me write about him sometimes. He is such a humble man. Veterans don’t tell much.

    They share only with those they trust the most.

    Trust is everything in life. Having the trust of a veteran is the only reward I relish for all that I have been writing since 2009 about the veterans I have met.

    Someone else wrote me last week. His grandfather was in the same squadron as my veteran. He has pictures to share and knows how to use a scanner…

    I believe he trusts me to pay homage to his grandfather.

    1. Yes, Pierre, you did recommend organizing my stories in a better way. I just don’t have that many readers as you and gpcox do. Although my mission with this blog is different than yours, I am still pondering your kind recommendation. Thank you again and keep up your good work.

      1. I understand what you mean. I like your blog very much as you will find out later.

  5. An outstanding tribute to our troops and Old Jack. It was heart-warming to hear you speak of him again and exactly what Memorial Day is supposed to mean to everyone! This country can ask for no one better than you, Koji (and yes, I’m tearing up – you knew I would.)

    1. Although the “caster” differs, we are from the same mold, gpcox. And between us, Kleenex is insufficient. We need something better. We need Puffs… Thank you for your kind words as always.

  6. Wow, Koji-san, what a powerful post. I will be sharing it this Sunday on my blog. I have a Korean War vet buddy that I will be visiting this weekend – working on his memoir. Sometimes I am afraid to talk to him about his stories, but he wants to let people know exactly what kind of hell war is. Not some video game or TV show. God bless our war veterans.

    1. You hit it on the head, Linda. It is not a video game; many of the video game generation have a very wrong perception of “war”. They feel they can “get hit” then recover or have additional lives. It is not like that in war at all. And I pray that our veterans that come back from war will somehow find peace within their souls.

      Thank you for your most kind words and efforts towards writing memoirs. Otherwise, they will be forever lost and disappear from our conscious.

    1. Sir, we must thank you first for “doing it” – going into harm’s way in Iraq and enduring the horror of war. While different than from the wanton killing on the Pacific Islands 70 years ago, the war you had to engage in was so restricted with the ROE that work against you. Thank you for your good service, sir.

  7. Thank you Colleen for remembering and honoring our great veterans . For sharing the depth of what they sacrifice for our freedom. Yes Amen Memorial Day is not just a 3 day weekend!

  8. You do so much to promote tremendous awareness of all our Veteran sacrifices, but I really developed a deep respect for Old Man Jack. I hate to think of what he may have suffered and any guilt he carried, but I hope he rests in peace, knowing he is still remembered by so many. You were a wonderful friend to him, Koji. I know Memorial Day can sometimes be reduced to a BBQ day/weekend, but in our household that is not true. And I hope we can keep it that way. Thank you, Koji.

    1. We know it is not that way in your household, Debra… and all I can do now for all those young souls that went to war is individualize their horrors and experiences for readers. Even then, maybe about 50 people read a story.

      It is not enough to read in a history textbook that “5,000 Marines hit the beach in the first wave” or “they had dysentery and malaria”. They are generalized summaries. They had leeches in between their toes and incessant “jungle rot”, a generalized slang term for any tropical skin disease. First waves ran out of water and medical supplies. Corpsman were cut down in number just as the Marines so wounded would perish… Yes, a number couldn’t stand it anymore so they committed suicide – and their buddies watched them do it.

    2. ps Have you ever watched “The Pacific”? No movie can EVER portray the fear of death, the smell of death or the sound of a bullet hitting your buddy…but the mini-series may give you a more valid exposure to the actual carnage in the Pacific.

  9. You weave such a poignant story while reminding us all of the real meaning of Memorial Day, Koji. Your insight about Old Man Jack’s torment, guilt and grief tugged at my heart, too.

  10. An extremely good point, extremely well made. It is too easy to forget that war veterans carry around an entire mental baggage with them. An English WW1 veteran aged 110 came on TV years ago and related how he still woke up on occasion screaming about events in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Some men give their lives in war, but a very great number sacrifice their normal state of mind, much of it through guilt or horror.

  11. To delete – Please tell the Colonel, Thank you, for the article.
    I am very sorry to hear of you present state. I am hoping your 3 loving children will help. You know I moderate my comments, so please write to me if you wish. I will always be a friendly ear for you!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s