I happened along this site a while back and reading this entry really touched my heart. We forget all too often about the men who fought and died and the ones that still remain. I wish I could talk with an 'Earl'.
Yesterday, my family and I visited the U.S.S. Lexington, docked on Corpus Christi Beach, right next to our hotel. "The Lex" as it is known was decommissioned in 1991, after serving heavily in WWII, and in wars following, and a stint as a set for the movie "Pearl Harbor". In '92 it was brought to CC, and refurbished as a museum. I must say, that thing is well worth the entrance fee - it was quite possibly my favorite part of our little Southwest trip. Course, I'm a bit of a fan of ships anyway ("See that? I can splice a wire like that, no problem!", "Hey, we used the same fire hose nozzles!"...Yes, I'm a dork...), so that could have something to do with it too.
But by far, my favorite part of the visit was Earl.
We met Earl in the Engine Room. The Lexington hold a good number of both employees and volunteers, many of whom actually served aboard "The Lex" in her prime.
Earl stood, all alone, beneath the only fan in the Engine Room. It wasn't stifling - it was only January 2nd - but its definitely south Texas. We were the only ones down there at first, so he seemed happy to see us. I made some comment about how it must be pretty hot down there without a fan. "Yes, as a matter of fact, the bigger fans, they used to have down here....well their engines blew and it was a warm two weeks before they finally installed the smaller one...Sometimes the airconditioning drops down a little from the upper deck though....its not so bad...."
He asked if any of us had been in the Navy, or military - somehow my piddly little 18 months chipping rust on the MV Rustbucket didn't really seem to compare, so I just shook my head no. Dave said he used to be in the Army, and kept looking at the surrounding maps. Personally, I was more interested in Earl.
Earl wore the yellow shirt of a Lex volunteer, but instead of a volunteers hat, he wore a US Marine Corps Veteran hat. Earl was no less that really old - but was still plugging along. He had a large, WC Fields nose, a roadmap of pores and veins, as do most old men over the age of 75. He had small, sad eyes, blurred by cateracts.
Earl told us some of the basic information about how the engine room works, and about the 4 steam-powered props, and all he'd been told to say. But he kept inserting personal information, and it became more and more obvious that this man had more to say about wars than simply how large the ship propellers were.
He mentioned about the Lexington's service in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and added: "I was at Iwo Jima..." I figured this was my chance.
"So, did you serve onboard here?"
"Oh, no no...I was a Marine. This here is a Navy carrier."
"What did you do there, then?
By this time, we'd lost my brother and stepdad. Mom was only about half interested. I maintained eye contact. I wondered how many people waited and wanted to listen to his stories, rather than just hearing the script.
"Oh. Um, see...I was an amphibious landing craft driver...We took the men from the ships to the shore in waves...then we'd go back for more...wave 5....wave 10....15....20...It was a tough fight. We lost a lot of men. But we took that island."
Earl's already blurred eyes were starting to well up with tears.
"I lost 6 friends.... Six good friends that day....."
"...I'm sorry..." I said, mad at myself for being unable to find words that truly expressed my sympathy.
"Well...yeah...." He blinked the tears away, ever the man.
"We weren't hurt though," he continued, "...at least, not badly. I mean, we were, but....you see, on the beach, there's a lot of coral, see...and now, when a bomb or grenade-any explosion-happens in water, it shoots directly up, see, because it can't go in any other direction...well, one landed just behind us, a grenade, and threw us forward onto that coral. Weren't bad though, got scraped up a bit" - at this point, he motions towards his wrists and forearms- "but we got out okay..."
Earl and I stood and chatted for a while - him doing most of the chatting, really. Earl is 79 years old and his wife is 80. In the winter, they move down here with their RV, from Michigan. After the war, he went to Michigan State University (our big connection point being that I used to live in East Lansing when I was young), which was one of only two colleges in the country at the time which offered uni-level training for the police. ("We had to take classes in the cookery building - we'd be smellin chickens, you know!") He was a policeman in Michigan til 1989, when he retired, and started coming down to Texas in the winter months. This will probably be the last year he'll be going back to Michigan - too much hassle to keep up with the property up there, so he and the wife are probably going to move down to Texas for good, where Earl can keep up his volunteering.
By this time, my family was long gone ahead to the other exhibits. As we talked, at least 20 people came and went, never stopping to hear what he was saying. I wanted to take Earl out for coffee and ask him if they had any kids, and grandkids, and who were his favorites (because everyone has favorites) and where he met his wife and how he felt when he first held her hand, and how he knew she was the one he wanted to be with for rest of his life and how he proposed and about each of those 6 friends he lost, and what they were life and if they had kids or family or girlfriends that sent perfumed letters, or Mom's that sent care packages of goodies, and why he joined the Marines and whether or not he had any regrets over the course of his life...
But I had to say goodbye to Earl. I finally asked his name, and he said Earl somethingorrather, a last name I'd remotely heard of - he further explained that Mr. somethingorrather, a famous oil tycoon, was his uncle.
"You seem to be a good friend to know then, Earl!", I said with a wink. "I'm a Forbes - no relation, but we let them think what they want!"
"Right, right, like the 500! Ha ha!....You know, I served with two Forbes....good men, both of them...I think one from Indiana....
I explained that I had a great uncle that fought, and died, in the war..LeRoy...but I think he was in the Navy....
I finally made my way back upstairs, after saying our goodbyes and thank yous, sincerely sad to be leaving Earl. Walking along the Hangar Deck to meet up with my family again, I did some quick math.....Iwo Jima in 1945....
Earl was no more than 20 years young.
Borrowed from This Beautiful Mess.