My Memorial Day tribute

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RockyRaab
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My Memorial Day tribute

Post by RockyRaab » Sat May 27, 2017 12:59 pm

My annual post as a Memorial Day tribute to our fallen heroes.


One Fewer

I first saw him hobbling down the aisle of a small gun show. He was obviously of advanced age: white-haired, frail, and walking with a pronounced limp, his bony left hand grasping one of those spiral thornwood canes that look like a kudu’s horn. It was that cane that first caught my attention – without it, the man would have been invisible.

His pained but determined pace picked up when he neared a table only two away from mine. The table’s owner displayed military battle rifles. The old gent stopped there, but I became distracted by customers of my own and did not notice him again.

The promoter held two shows a year in that small town, and I became a regular vendor. After that first time, I started noticing the old gentleman at every show. He always carried that magnificently polished, deep brown cane. He always went steadfastly to that same dealer’s table. He always came on Sunday morning when the crowds were thin.

Clearly not well off financially, the old man’s clothes never varied. His shoes were of brown leather, the toes curled up from age, deep cracks at the toe bend and the heels worn to a smooth curve; but they were always carefully brushed to a soft luster. His slacks were khaki cotton, a semblance of a crease still showing down the front of each leg, with an irregular outline on one thigh that bespoke of a liquid stain long ago acquired. His sports jacket was dark brown wool, its herringbone pattern all but obliterated by age. Its pockets sagged as if he’d once limped home –in a driving rain- with oranges in them. The dulled and faded miniature of a military ribbon adorned the jacket’s left lapel. Under the jacket he always wore a white shirt so thin his sleeveless undershirt showed through. On his Western-style bolo tie, a walnut-sized, blood-red stone mirrored the man’s jutting Adam’s apple. Raising the stooped figure to perhaps five-feet six, a grey fedora hat rode. Now battered, sweat-stained and misshapen, the hat characterized him as much as the liver spots on his pallid, papery skin.

I was able to catalog such small details because of his laborious gait. He’d plant the tightly clutched cane, then half-shuffle, half-slide his crippled left leg forward, and finally his still-spry right: tap, drag, step; tap, drag, step. Just watching him brought a dull empathetic ache to my hips and knees.

Neither his appearance nor his habits ever varied: he’d hobble past my table, spend a few minutes in front of the rifle collector’s display, then leave, unnoticed.

And then, one time, he failed to appear.

Just before the show ended that Sunday afternoon, I ambled over to the rifle table. On one end were a few P-17 Enfields and Springfields, a couple SMLE’s, one or two ’98 Mausers and an Arisaka. At the other end were several .30 M-1 carbines, a Garand and even a rare Johnson rifle. It was interesting stuff, but I really wanted to ask about the old man.

“I heard he passed away last month,” the dealer said. “I’ll miss him.” He shook his head ruefully and looked down.

“You know anything about him? Your table was the only one he ever visited, as far as I saw.”

“Not much. But it wasn’t my table that he visited. It was this,” he said, pointing to the Garand.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s like this…the first few times he came by, I tried to wait on him. But he never spoke a word – like I wasn’t even there. He’d walk up, stand there a bit, and then he’d lightly touch the Garand. With just his fingertips, as though it was his lover or something, you know? Then one time I said, ‘You seem like you know that rifle. Carry one in the Army?’ He shook his head a little and kept right on caressing that rifle’s stock, but he said ‘Marines.’

“So then I looked at him a little closer. You know that little blue pin in his lapel? That’s the Navy Cross, and it’s the highest they give except for the Medal of Honor. And so I had to ask him where he got it, and he finally looked up at me. His eyes were brimming, as if some nightmare just came back to him, and he choked out one word: ‘Tarawa.’

“After that, I’d sell any rifle on the table, except that Garand. It would have killed him if I had. I never will sell it, now.” He stood silently for a second, then concluded, “Those two spoken words and that ribbon are all I know about that old man, but they’re all I need to know.”

As if drawn to it, I stroked the stock of the Garand and whispered, “Thank you.” I’m not sure if I said it to the dealer, or that rifle, or the hovering spirit of that departed hero. Maybe all three. But I meant it.

A note: I read recently that as many as 2,000 veterans of World War II pass away every single day. That’s more than were lost on many days of the war. If you know or even meet a veteran from that conflict, thank them from the bottom of your heart…while you still can.

Printed in “The Big Show Journal” May/June 2005 © Rocky Raab, 2005


Postscript: This was written 12 years ago. Almost all WWII veterans have now passed away. One of the few remaining is this 90 year-old bomber crewman I shared a ride on a B-17 with earlier this month.

Image

Sadly, not just WWII vets but those from Korea and Vietnam are passing. This post is US-oriented but veterans from all nations have one thing in common: they all pass away largely without having their stories told. That's a shame.
Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.

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BTemple
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Re: My Memorial Day tribute

Post by BTemple » Sat May 27, 2017 4:52 pm

Fantastic story and memorial.
Veterans such as him to always be remembered
My grandfather fought with the British Royal Navy during the entirety of WW2, in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, with most being convoy escort duty. He never spoke much about it all, just bits and pieces. I received his war records and one of his medals after he passed.... he certainly saw some action according to the file. Wish I could have gotten the chance to hear more instead of having to piece it together years after his death.
In the immortal words of President Harrison Ford, Air Force One: Peace is not the absence of war... it is the presence of justice.

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FREMONT
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Re: My Memorial Day tribute

Post by FREMONT » Sat May 27, 2017 11:51 pm

What a beautiful article. It fills my heart with melancholy to know that almost all WW2 veterans of all nations will soon leave this Earth in less than a decade's time, if not sooner. It appears war veterans often hold deep connections with their service rifles, especially from that era. I don't know if vets from other nations share strong bonds with their service rifles like Americans. Most likely due to our "gun culture" and what-have-you-not. I would guess the Swiss and some British and Canadian veterans would also hold bonds to their rifles and their service weapons. Every once in a while you see a vet being reunited with an bomber, fighter plane, etc. that was similar to the one they piloted/ flown in. It appears they hold the same bonds with their respective vehicles, as do the ground soldiers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNnZxgGAuQE


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPjXuYxwJNY


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5MekfvvMC8


There are plenty of other videos but I think these will show the point from the excerpt above.
Good luck and may your rations stay unspoiled!

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alohakid
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Re: My Memorial Day tribute

Post by alohakid » Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:09 pm

RockyRaab - Fantastic job! Thank you.

mahalo

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