11 November 2009


On this Veterans Day in 2009, we are all turning our attention, rightfully so, to the millions of men and women who have answered the call to duty (past and present) in defense of our nation. But the respect and honor that we give to these brave people should not stop with them. Oftentimes, the greater burden of military service is placed on the shoulders of those left behind..their families.

Say hello to "Ken". Ken works the midnight shift at the 7/11 not far from my house in the 505. I visit Ken once or twice a week, late at night, to purchase a pack of what will be my eventual downfall of life experience on this earth.

Ken is in his mid-60's, honest, hardworking, and is no doubt building up an incredibly worthless retirement fund thanks to his employment at 7/11.
But he loves his job. And who can't admire anyone for that?

Ken wears the same baseball cap to work every night. It's one of those Navy baseball caps that you see around port cities like San Diego, Newport News, Honolulu, Manila, ..etc... caps that have the name and the image and ID number of a ship on it.

Ken's cap says "USS INDIANAPOLIS".

I know a little about U.S. Military History.

So one late night, when the cops weren't around collecting their free donuts drying out underneath the heat lamp, in between busting joyriding teenagers and setting up their DWI checkpoints, I asked Ken what he knew about the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

"A lot", he said. "My Father served on the Indianapolis".

I asked...."Really? Odd, you appear to be too old to have had a father serve on it" (nice one 505.....try something novel next time and THINK before you open your mouth).

Being too nice a guy to give me a dirty look after my faux pas, he smiled and replied that his mother was pregnant with him when the ship was struck by Japanese torpedos after delivering the atomic bomb for a test drop on Hiroshima.

For those of you who don't know the story about the Indianapolis, it took 4 days after the sinking of the Indianapolis for the U.S. Navy to figure out that they had a cruiser missing. In the meantime about 900 initial survivors (out of a crew of 1100) of the ship fought dehydration and sharks while floating around freely in the ocean, with nothing but life preservers. The sharks were the bigger of the battle....and the sharks won more often than not. When rescuers arrived on the scene, roughly 300 of the original crew had survived.

So I asked Ken....

"Did your dad make it home?"

Ken replied...

"He's still at sea"

Bucking up and trying to remain stoic, I hugged him and blessed him for keeping the faith alive in the middle of the desert with that small tribute that he wears EVERY night during his shift at 7/11.

Now each time I visit Ken, I have now a good reason to reflect about my dad. The U.S. Marine who was fortunate enough to come home from the Pacific. Dad was lucky....really, really lucky. He got pulled out of a graduation day exercise on Parris Island after some Colonel recognized him as the 505 Senior who played baseball in the Yankee organization prior to enlistment. And he asked my dad if he'd be interested in playing on the Marine Corps intra-service team..alongside Major League players like Ted Williams (briefly) and Jerry Coleman. So when my dad's company shipped off to the Pacific, dad got off the ship in Hawaii while the rest of his boot camp buddies headed west, thinking that they were gonna be involved in quartermaster duties for 3-4 months. Except that they were really headed for Tarawa, and my dad's company was part of the first wave of invaders. And out of his boot camp platoon of 20 or so Marines, 3 survived the landing, and one of them committed suicide a year later.

So thanks to meeting Ken, I got to thinking what life would have been like for my brother, who was born in 1944, if my dad didn't come home. (Never mind my younger sister and I, who knows if our specific eggs would have ever been fertilized).
Would my brother have turned out to be the ambitious white collar entrepreneur if may father had not come home? Or would he have been content and happy enough to wear a "Battle of Tarawa" T-Shirt to his shift as a cab driver in NYC every night?

And I'm not saying that's there's anything wrong with being a cab driver or a midnight shift clerk at a local 7/11. I am a firm believer that life is too short to worry about inane details like your standing in the economic caste system of life. It's more important to be happy, whatever you do.

But I think it's important to remember on this Veteran's Day that it's not just the actual people who served our nation that we need to honor, but also those who were left behind...especially those who carried on without a father, a mother, an uncle, a grandfather etc.

Because their sacrifices and losses and the memories they carry are no less honorable.

I think I'll need a pack of ciggies tonight.

And I'm gonna pickup a flower or something to give to Ken.

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