Never Forget

8 07 2013

He looked to be in his 60s, not a very large man, probably somewhere around 5 feet 7 inches in height and I doubt he weighed much more that 125 lbs.  His clothes were always the same, sleeveless tee shirts, white baggy pants, black shoes,Image a chain with a cross around his neck, and his ever present Navy cap.  As a kid I used to think it was glued to his head, it never seemed to move no matter what he was doing.  I was shocked when I finally did see him without it at the local barbershop.  It didn’t even look like him as he sat there getting a tight cut flattop; but the moment the cut was finished the barber handed him the cap that he adjusted properly while looking in the mirror. The only time his attire changed was in the winter when he would don a dark blue double breasted coat to combat the cold weather.  Still, the ever present white cap perched on his head no matter what the temperature was or the elements that fell.

When my family knew him, he was living in a small apartment down the alley from our house.  It wasn’t a very nice place, one room and a bath, but probably all he could afford living on a small fixed income.  He was known for being a handyman, doing yard work, cleaning up buildings and any chore that would put a few extra bucks in his pocket.  I never saw it, but was told that when he wasn’t working you could find him at the neighborhood tavern down by the river, which may be another reason he couldn’t afford to live in a better place.  On occasion he would drop by our house and sit on the back porch talking to my Uncle Price.  They seemed to be jollyful talking and laughing about many subjects.  I was allowed to sit out there with them, but at a certain point they would both get quiet for a moment; then Price would tell me, “Johnny, you need to go into the house and let us talk in private.”  As always I’d obey, but I knew what was going on. From inside I could see through the window Price get his wallet out and hand the old sailor some money, a few more words and then their business would be over.  (People stopping by our backdoor asking for a little help wasn’t that uncommon, but that’s another story.)  The only time I ever saw anything change about him was the day he got a new cap.  His old one was quite worn and dingy looking.  This one was a bright, almost gleaming white from its newness.  At first it looked strange propped on top of his noggin so new looking, but I knew as time went on it would end up like the old one, well worn and dingy; like I said he wore it all the time.

One year my Aunt Pearl had put out a garden that yielded many vegetables, so much that she gave a lot of produce to the neighbors.  She called me to the kitchen one day to help her carry several bags of food down to the sailor’s apartment; she also included a quilt that she had made.  (That was my Pealy Mae, always doing for others.)  When we reached his place he immediately invited us.  The room was dimly lit, one lamp over in the corner by a twin bed and a single light bulb hanging down on a power cord from the ceiling in the middle of the room.  His residence was meager in furnishing, the bed, a chest of drawers, an old chest, table with two chairs, radio on the counter, stove and refrigerator and that was about it.  The only thing that brought attention to his abode was one wall.  There he had displayed a large American flag with pictures surrounding it.  Some of the pictures were ones that had been taken by someone, others seemed to be cut from magazines, but all had the same theme; Navy emblems, Navy ships, and Navy sailors, everything was Navy.  As he and my Aunt talked, I examined the photos, some didn’t have frames, but wrapped in cellophane to protect them.  He walked over and pointed to one picture of a group of sailors, “See that guy there?”  I looked closely at the man he pointed at, a swab with his shirt off displaying his bulging muscles.  “Yeah,” I said, “Who is he, a friend of yours?”  “Well I guess you can say that,” he answered with a smile, “That’s me.”   I took another quick look and then back at the man standing before me.  No way I thought, but I wasn’t going to say it out loud, there wasn’t anything I could see that resembled the  neighborhood sailor.  Each one in the photograph were men he served with on a battleship during WW2.  Pointing to each person individually he told me their names and what they did on the ship.  Walking over to the chest of drawers to pick up an old worn Bible, he opened it to where he kept one picture of he and two other sailors standing together on a beach.  “These were my two best friends when I was in the Navy; we went through basic training together and were assigned to the same ship.”  “Where are they now?”  I asked, “Do you ever see them anymore?”  He looked hard at the picture before placing it back in the Bible; “No, I don’t,” he spoke quietly.  “They and most of the men you see in the other picture died in a battle during the war.  Over half the men on my ship lost their lives that day.”  I don’t know if he read a confused look on my face or if he just waned to tell me but his next words were, “Those were the best days of my life, and the closest friends I ever had.  I’ve never forgotten them or what we went through together.  That’s why I keep all these things, so I remember them always. Closing the Bible around the picture he kept there, he gave it a pat before placing it back on the dresser and then said, “I keep this picture here to remind me that one day I’ll see my friends again.” Looking me in the eye he continued; “I said the three of us did everything together, that included going to church before we shipped out.  I know we will be mates again.”

“Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him.  And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won’t also cost you yours.”  (Rich Mullins)

I never saw the sailor again.  While I was gone once, something happened and he was taken away in an ambulance.  I believe he was stricken with a stroke and heard he lived out his days in some military nursing home in Sandusky, Ohio.  I can’t tell you what battle he took part in, perhaps Guam or maybe Pearl Harbor, really I guess it doesn’t matter, never heard any soldier talk about a battle as a fun moment.  And I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be in combat fighting with everything you have, not knowing if your life or that of the fellow warrior fighting just a hard next to you will end any second.  But I do understand what I have gained by the sacrifice of others and for that I say, “Thank you and God Bless You!”  Thinking back on my old sailor friend I now realize he wasn’t some senile character holding on to the past.  When putting the whole picture together, everything about him made sense, from his sailor’s cap, to the cross around his neck.  He was a warrior with no wars left to fight, waiting for the day he’s called to “Ship Out” again; but this time on an eternal voyage with his shipmates under the command and protection of the Captain of Heaven and Earth.  Awesome!!!  I’m one of these people that believe he’ll someday see friends and loved ones in Heaven.  I think I’m going make a little time to look up an old salt from the neighborhood.  He shouldn’t be hard to find; I mean how many in Heaven am I going to run into wearing an old sailor’s cap!

For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 2 Timothy 1:12.




One response

8 07 2013
jeff bonnell

thank you !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: