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.
“….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.
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 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:
I’m hoping he was beaming. He couldn’t possibly be happier, being with the two most beautiful ladies in his life.
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
“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.
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.
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.
While avoiding any political endorsement of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he did lead England to victory over Hitler’s Germany during World War II.
It was a grave time for England¹. While I am certainly not a military historian, his famous speeches – with his distinctive speech and delivery – which helped keep the British morale bolstered always intrigued me. They were always stirring. Why is that, I thought.
As an example, an excerpt of one of his more famous WWII speeches follows, broadcast to the free world at the end of the Battle of Britain¹. He pays homage to the brave, young RAF pilots who flew countless of sorties in defense of their homeland against numerically superior Nazi warplanes. The radio broadcast recording is set to start moments before his famous words of “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“:
But there IS something in his speeches that captivated the common English layman of war-ravaged England…and me. He captured the populace with his radio broadcasts, from chimney sweeps to the most learned elite. This in a time when Nazi Germany laid siege to the island nation, eventually bombing London itself (which was part of a key tactical blunder²).
Nevertheless, his tone is generally reserved during his speeches; yet, it is stirring. It certainly is not animated as that of his psychotic foe, Hitler; it is said Churchill would merely sit behind the microphone on a desk while his faithful cigar burned at his side while broadcasting his speech. (Hitler is one of the most animated, dynamic speakers I have watched even though he was inhuman.)
Then, a couple of years ago, I had stumbled across an article about his speeches. I think I was researching in support of one of my son’s school projects when I came across it. But it finally laid bare his secret to me for his successful speeches: it was the simplicity of his words.
His speeches not only excluded complex words, like perpendicularity or discombobulation for the most part, his ultimate secret was the number of syllables in a word.
It was rare he used any word with more than three syllables. Yes, three syllables. Amazing, isn’t it?
In an excerpt from his speech on June 4, 1940 below, you can see his perfect choice of words. There are only three words with more than three syllables (bold italics). Simplicity was his preference and key to his success:
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Anyways, I just thought it was fascinating to finally learn one key to Sir Winston Churchill’s successful and historic speeches. After he carried England through the war, I am sad he was voted out as Prime Minister in Britain’s first elections after Germany’s surrender. He passed away in 1965 at the age of 90.
But one thing is for certain. My Little Cake Boss Diva has instinctively mastered Churchill’s speech skills.
“Papa… Why do you do it that way? Do it this way!”
See? All three syllables or less… She must be captivating although she is a bit more animated than Churchill was.
Someone help me.
By the way, my text above has twelve words that have more than three syllables. :-)
For a collection of Sir Winston Churchill’s speeches, please click here.
1. It is but my belief that England’s situation in 1939 while dire was not as gloomy as history presents it to be. Nevertheless, it was a most dangerous time to be a Londoner.
2. Perhaps in the future, I will write about this “blunder” by Hitler and most of all, Goering. One unbelievable tactical error was ordering his Me-109’s – arguably a better fighter plane than the British Spitfire – to fly alongside his bombers in a defensive move.