My Grandfather forged papers to join the Marines at fifteen years old. The truth was not discovered until he was ready to be shipped out. He begged his parents to legally sign him in at seventeen.
He finished basic training, and was assigned with a few other Marines to board The Californian.
Destination: Hawaii, Pearl Harbor.
The morning of the 7th started in chaos. He reacted first by running up magazines for the guns, then watching Sailors jump or fall overboard, tossed life vests then anything floatable off the sides of the ship. When nothing else was found, he jumped overboard – convinced he could help save the lives of Sailors in jeopardy.
Oil bled from many ships, flamed the ocean. Smoke, dark and thick snaked and greedily engorged what was once calm and clean. Metal clashed, groaned, ripped sounds from the bowels of hell, motors roared and muffled other warnings of danger. Explosions were nearly surreal, sucking sound from its center, leaving wakes of fallen in the path of their invisible waves. Salt water and smoke stung the young Marine’s eyes and lungs; he’d look up, see a blur of color and the emblem of Japan on their wings of aircraft…
Many years later we found those he rescued from the ocean, past oil slicks, pushed to small boats. He stayed with each until other hands heaved them aboard. The last man Papa rescued swam with him until they reached the beach, then stumbled together through the chaos to what he hoped was a medical building.
My grandfather was in the hospital in Hawaii for nearly a year. External burns, and internal organ damage from inhaling so much oil induced smoke.
Healed, he vowed to never again eat rice, fish. Because it would not be politically correct, later in life, he suppressed to his grandchildren an extended hate towards all things Japanese. To express such things would leave him vulnerable. Would we believe him a hero, knowing his darkest thoughts?
Jumping forward in time, 1975 a new neighbor moved next door to Papa. This family was from Japan.
The neighbors looked to be about the same age as my grandfather. We’d sneak over and have conversations with the neighbor. One of my cousins discovered that the neighbor’s father was in the military, Japan, high rank. He died for his country during the war.
Both our grandfather and the neighbor chose to ignore each other, until the neighbor had a heart attack.
Recovering, he sat in the front yard, bribed Papa’s dog over with dog treats then sent the pooch home.
Papa was livid.
The neighbor warned him of his bad heart and to ‘tone it down’.
Not willing to be blamed for his neighbor’s demise, Papa’s dog received daily treats.
The neighbor informed Papa one day that he was going to Hawaii. He wanted to honor those whom died.
Grandfather ignored him.
The neighbor, his wife, their grown children, grandchildren and great grandchildren made the trip to Hawaii together.
Snapshots duplicated, placed in a box, left for Papa.
Papa said nothing.
Yet the same routine: Dog out. Dog visits neighbor. Dog snacked up - then back home.
This continued for seven more years, until Papa was formally diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Simple tasks such as buttoning shirts, putting on both socks and shoes, remembering where the bedroom now hid behind fantasy and fog . Years became fluid, like a tide; in and out, sometimes calm, foamy, glassy. Unexpected storms blew through, shook what was almost grasped, and dragged the heart’s truest treasures to the ocean’s floor. Wars and faces, names and places shift, sometimes back to where they were meant to be during the stages when we are lost during our walk in life.
Some call it a mystery. Perhaps Grace.
Dawn gifts my Grandfather. He walks accompanied by his elderly dog to the front porch; slippers sometimes on the wrong feet, shuffling, but still, moving forward. He pauses, Our Papa, a shaky hand feeling the cold nose of his faithful companion. With the barest of movement, he releases her towards his neighbor’s home , and in a raspy voice calls out, “My brother! Come over!”
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