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One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post #14904003 05/23/20
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RockyRaab Offline OP
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I have posted this every year during Memorial Day weekend, by popular request. If you have not read it before, please do.

(NOTE: the final paragraph is no longer accurate - we have very, very few of these men and women left among us. They have all passed from the living, but they will live forever in memories and memorials like this tale. Once again, from my deepest being: Thank you.)


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 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 © Copyright Rocky Raab 2005

Permission to reprint in full (with author credit and copyright notice) is granted.


Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.

BP-B2

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904019 05/23/20
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Thanks Rocky.

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904098 05/23/20
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Thanks again, Rocky... I enjoy that every year. It always reminds me of handing my CMP M-1 Garand to my late uncle back in 2007. He hadn't seen one in person since he got out of the Marines after WW2. He was a young marine in the Pacific Theater circa 1944-45. It was interesting as he touched each part and talked about it. He said he was surprised at how his memory all came back and he recalled all that stuff. He was quite familiar with the Garand and must have known them well to have all the details about it come back after not seeing one for about 62 years. Wish I had an oral history recording of that.

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904120 05/23/20
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Thank You, I enjoy it very year and find it hard to believe that another year has passed.


Arcus Venator
Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904126 05/23/20
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Got one back in dec 05 for the major I worked for in korea when I came home on mid tour.

His dad was a marine rifle company commander on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Christmas present for him.
H&R 1954 Arsenel rebuilt.
What a nutroll getting that Garand shipped out to Utah.
Worth the effort though.


Liberal Socialist Democrats and their voters are a bane to this Nation.
IC-A

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904157 05/23/20
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Thanks for posting again.
My dad and father in law were in WWII. FIL in Europe. My father wounded in Okinawa. near the end.
Both came home after the war, married, raised great families, became farmers and lived productive lives.
RIP to both of them and the many others that helped save the world.


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Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: renegade50] #14904167 05/23/20
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This is my first reading.

Thank you so much!

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904182 05/23/20
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Thanks Rocky!

I can't remember the number of times I have read and forwarded this very touching post! All of my Uncles that served have passed as has my Dad. The last one to pass (in 2019) was my Aunt who was a Navy nurse.

To all of those who served and are no longer with us; I salute you all...

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904189 05/23/20
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THANK YOU

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904214 05/23/20
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Darn, sand gets in your eyes at the worst times, thanks Rocky.


Ed

A person who asks a question is a fool for 5 minutes the person who never asks is a fool forever.

The worst slaves are those that put the chains on themselves.
IC-B

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904239 05/23/20
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Thanks for posting this again Rocky,

Always enjoy reading it - even if it does make my allergies act up...........

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904246 05/23/20
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Great story Rocky. Thanks again.

My Dad kept a DCM 03 Springfield on the wall that he cherished.
Just like the ones that he and his fellow airdales used to shoot down a Zero on Dec. 7th.

My brother has it now.

R.I.P. Dad, and all your fellow warriors.

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904324 05/23/20
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Thanks. My father and grand father both served in the Pacific in WWII. Both were great men and unfortunately both gone. I miss them both and wish I had spent more quality time with them. But most of all, one of my wishes has always been for people to have more than a superficial understanding of the significance of this "holiday". It's not about veterans, it's not about saving money at store sales, it's not BBQs over the weekend. And this is going to sound surprising to some, but this story with this fine man isn't even about this man. It's about all the people who didn't come home.


"Hey jackass, get your government off my freedom."
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Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904368 05/23/20
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Thanks Rocky.

Florida Chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Assn hosts a local affair here in the neighborhood on a regular basis. One of their displays is an OH-6A well and properly maintained. I have some rather introspective moments when I gaze at it.

They also set up a miniature Wall that is somewhere in the range If 75’ in length. I know too many names on the display and it fixes my dry eye for a spell.


I am..........disturbed.

Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn't any. But this wrongs the jackass. -Twain


Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904408 05/23/20
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I used to really push the old vets for details/stories when I got the opportunity, I quit when I realized I was making most of them come to tears.....


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Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904420 05/23/20
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My dad is 94 and still with us, none of the guys that he knew from back then are still with us just in spirit. My mom at 89 is declining rapidly with old age Alsheimers and other problems. I think he is waiting for her to go and will soon follow. US Army WW2 VET,he was on a troop ship heading for the staging area for the home island invasion when they dropped the bomb. He did his qualifying with the 03 and later with the Garand both he thought a lot of. Never saw him get really angry till one libtard made the comment about how " the US should have never nuked the japs" boy that sob got an ear full in a hurry. The loss of the greatest generation is our countries greatest loss , they knew what freedom really costs. MB

Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904423 05/23/20
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"There ain't no freedom....without gunpowder!"
Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904426 05/23/20
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Why didn't he gift the rifle to the guy?

What a cheap ass.


Originally Posted by jaguartx
Keep sucking bleck ass with Travis
Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14904504 05/23/20
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This is a photo of my Dad, 1940, fifteen years old, New York State, used to hunt and trap to supplement the family income.....

[Linked Image from live.staticflickr.com]

The end of the following year he was sitting on the curb of the small town drug store with his buddy when he overheard the news of Pearl Habour on the radio.

His old brother had already left a Catholic Seminary and joined the Marines, ended up on Guadalcanal, (as one of the "Old Breed" I guess). So my dad dropped out and joined the Marines too, his best friend joined the Navy. My father almost missed combat, being stricken down in the Pacific by mosquito-bourne encephalitis, a thing which would come back to torment him again as Parkinson's disease just twenty-five years later.

He did recover in time to step onto Okinawa as a 20 yo Private in the 6th Marines. He went onto Okinawa as a Private, came off Okinawa as the youngest Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps. Us kids would pester him for war stories, did he ever shoot any Japanese etc etc.... We could never get anything from him besides the vaguest generalities, we knew the names Shuri Castle and Naha and that he went to China afterwards. The only stories he told us were two that were humorous: the time he was on guard duty one night and opened up on a wandering goat, and the time some guys were using a hillside mausoleum as a latrine and the blast from a bomb dropped from a Japanese plane echo through a cave and surprised those guys from underneath.

Anyways he finally came back home to his mom's house in '46 or '47, his own father having passed on while he was gone. My Dad had a lot of issues with what we call today PTSD after the war and in particular never picked up a gun again his whole life. His best friend was dating a visiting English girl in Brooklyn and one day soon after his return he was asked did he want to come along on account of the girl had a 15 yo younger sister. My Dad went and that first night, him aged 22, told that 15 yo girl that he was going to marry her. It took four years and him pulling up stakes and following a 16yo girl back to a country he had never been to before but he pulled it off cool

My Dad passed in '97, after years of poor health. Some years later his nephew, this guy, was a teenager working behind the counter at a McDonald's outside of West Point...

[Linked Image from live.staticflickr.com]

One day an elderly gentleman on the line stared at him hard and asked him if his name was O'Birdy. It should be understood that my Dad looked a lot like I do now, 5"7', my nephew OTOH is over 6ft tall, not at whole lot of resemblance that we ever noticed. My nephew had however grown in the same house as my dad until my dad died.

My nephew replied that O'Birdy had been his grandfather's name. The old gentleman then stated my Dad's full name and asked if that had been him. He then stated that he had been my Dad's Commanding Officer on Okinawa and that my Dad had saved his life twice. The gentleman didn't leave any contact info and my nephew was too young to think to ask him. We contacted the 6th Marine Association but it turns out many of the personnel records from Okinawa were since lost. We were never able to find out who that guy was.

You can see my Dad leaned over from paralysis at this photo from my wedding, the pretty girl he followed to England is sitting further back. She's a pretty tough cookie herself, bombed out of her house by the Luftwaffe as a little girl (hence her presence in Brooklyn in '46). Times were tough when my Dad got disabled, at that time we had recently returned from the States and, having little work history here, did not qualify for much Social Security. My mom's income, such as it was, supported all five of us, she stuck to my dad and to us for richer for poorer, through sickness and in health.

Just a few years after this photo was taken my mom took up skydiving to celebrate her 70th birthday. When she turned 87 she jumped twice in the same day cool

[Linked Image from live.staticflickr.com]


"...if the gentlemen of Virginia shall send us a dozen of their sons, we would take great care in their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them." Canasatego 1744
Re: One Fewer - My Memorial Day Post [Re: RockyRaab] #14905010 05/23/20
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Holy kshizzle! My Mom just sent me this sent to her by my cousin, my Dad on Okinawa 1945. He's the shorter guy.

[Linked Image from live.staticflickr.com]



"...if the gentlemen of Virginia shall send us a dozen of their sons, we would take great care in their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them." Canasatego 1744
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