Old Man Jack-ism #8

jack corsair 99
After recovering from a flood of memories, Old Man Jack stares at the other girl in his life: the F4U Corsair. Planes of Fame, March 3, 2003. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto.

“….The son-of-a-bitch had no legs…” said Old Man Jack from his wife’s blue wheelchair.  His arms were making like windmills.  Well, windmills as fast as his 88 year old arms could go.  He had a comical yet strained look on his face, his bushy white eyebrows still prominent.

But you could see the pain behind those eyes…and in his deadened voice.

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Several months have passed since I visited with Old Man Jack at his grave.  With Memorial Day around the corner, May 17th was a beautiful day to visit him.  A recent rainstorm had just passed and the blue skies were painted with thin, wispy clouds.

I could see no one had stopped by since my last visit; at least no one that left flowers for his wife Carol and him.  The hole for flowers was covered up and grass had crept up onto his gravestone.

I had brought along something for Jack this time; something I thought he would enjoy.  So after cleaning up his resting place, it was placed atop his gravestone – his beloved F4U Corsair:

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He loved the F4U Corsair. He reflected on seeing the entire patrol return to base at wave top, do a victory roll then peel off with a tear in his eyes.

I’m hoping he was beaming.  He couldn’t possibly be happier, being with the two most beautiful ladies in his life.

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But back to his story.

A few months before he was taken away from his home, we had been sitting in his cluttered garage, talking about this and that; I just can’t recall what.  But something in our talk triggered an ugly war flashback from his tormented and mightily buried subconscious.  By that day in 2011, I could tell when he was enduring one, having sat in his garage with him for ten years.

He began as he did before.  He would suddenly stop then gaze down at his hands for a couple of seconds.  His left ring finger would begin to rhythmically pick under his right thumbnail.  His white, bushy eyebrows now made thin with time would partly obscure his eyes from me when he lowered his head.

While I am unable to recall his exact words, he slowly allowed an ugly event to surface:

Old Man Jack began, “We were ordered to go on a patrol.  We were issued rifles and hoped to God we wouldn’t come across any Japs,” he said in a remorseful way.¹  “Then, we came to these rice paddies… We could see hills around us… but that also meant the Japs could see us.”²

okinawa paddy
Perhaps it was this rice paddy in Okinawa. Archival image.
rice paddy
…Or this rice paddy. US Army photo.

“We just followed the guy in front of us like cattle,” he said.  “We were making it through the rice paddies when a couple of shells came in.  Man, I hit the ground real quick.

Then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose.  Rounds were coming in like crazy all around me.  They had this area zeroed in real good.”

He continued.  “I ain’t ashamed to say it.  I was scared real bad.  Then we all started to scram.  I got up and started to run.  I dumped my rifle and ran like crazy.”   While in that blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife Carol, Old Man Jack made like he was running, much like Popeye in this clip:

He then took his gaze away from his hands.  “Then I saw this guy flying through the air with his arms making like he was still running… but the son-of-a-bitch had no legs!”  He pointed his finger and made an arc like a rainbow, then swung his arms like a windmill.  Apparently, an enemy round had hit his comrade, severing his upper torso from his legs then throwing him into the air.  Although the comrade met a violent end, Old Man Jack was describing how he saw his arms flailing.

He stopped.  His eyes returned to his hands.  I still cannot imagine the torment he was enduring, even after 70 years.

I never will.  I just hope he didn’t take it to his grave with him.

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While Old Man Jack was fortunate to have survived combat unlike my Uncle Suetaro or Sgt. Bill Genaust, it was but a physical survival.

Combat tormented him forever.

Let us remember this Memorial Day our fellow Americans who perished so young for the sake of their families and friends, no matter which conflict… and also firmly support those in uniform as I write.  They, too, are being forgotten by many, even as they fight – and die – for us in godforsaken faraway places.

IMG_9496-001-10
My friend’s first husband, Sgt. Robert W. Harsock, US Army, Viet Nam, posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor. National Medal of Honor Memorial, Riverside National Cemetery. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

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NOTES:

1. I would like to remind my readers that Old Man Jack had no hatred to me or my family when he uttered the word “Jap”.  He is digressing to a most vile period in his life in which he could be killed the very next moment.  If you are offended, it is suggested you participate in an all-out war; perhaps you will understand why.

2. At his funeral, the minister read off the islands he fought on.  Based solely on his description of the large rice paddy and hills combined with what the minister said, I firmly believe this was Okinawa 1945.  Oddly, while Old Man Jack mentioned Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Bougainville and Green Island, he never mentioned Okinawa.

32 thoughts on “Old Man Jack-ism #8”

    1. You know, Andy, unless you were there and saw rotting death all around you, a man will never know. I can only imagine and it doesn’t come close… Thank you for stopping by once again.

      1. The stories you tell, One can learn a lot from them but more importantly it would teach children how to appreciate the world we have now, through the sacrifices that everyone made during these dark hours of man.

        Which is also why it drives me bonkers when i see kids these days complaining about how hard life is, with all their gadgets and trivial things to be angry about :-\

  1. This is so well written…and very touching. I know Old Man Jack loves that plane because it’s one of those heart-to heart gifts that transcend time. You’re a beautiful soul…

  2. I have frequently said that we often view those who gave up their lives in defense of America as knights in shining armor, perhaps even as standing is a bright silver hall reserved only for warriors. I think we tend to make such associations because we honor what they did for us, and we hold them in high esteem. The fact is, however, that when they died (far too young in most cases), they left the pain of this world behind them. The survivors, on the other hand, have suffered the agony of horrific memories their entire lives. They too are warriors, but we have not honored them quite enough; we are hardly able to empathize with the hell that remains trapped in their mind’s eye.

    1. Sir, thank you for your very compassionate thoughts on this matter. Indeed, they endure things unimaginable – especially for me since I have not even set foot on a battlefield nor heard the zing of a round overhead. I agree. This country needs to do much more than “Veteran’s Day”. Perhaps on a similar plane, surviving civilians, too.

  3. We tend to forget how veterans are affected by PTSD. And it isn’t something that goes away easily. Thanks for the post, it was very moving, and, as always, I enjoy any mention of the Corsair.

  4. I was glad to see a new post for Old Man Jack. I grew to feel as though I knew him when we first started corresponding. Jack will always be alive in you,
    I’ll be going to my son’s and Smitty’s grave tomorrow.

    1. Thanks for that insight! I had been scouring the internet for photos of larger rice paddies during the war and came up relatively empty. I’ll look some more.

    1. Thank you very much and I agree with your sentiment 100%. I will also say if our dang leaders put us to war, we must be in it 100% and let the military do their thing. That way, fewer lives will be lost.

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