Dad joined the Navy the day he turned 17 on January 17, 1946, months after World War II had ended. The youngest of seven kids, he tried to enlist when he quit school at 16, but they shooed him away. He never actually saw any combat action.
Long before I knew or cared about historical facts or evidence, he was a war hero in my mind. He definitely knew how to hold a kid’s attention with a load of bullshit that could have fertilized all of the Amazon jungle. And I mean ‘bullshit’ in the best possible way. This was a man who had a paperweight on his desk with the message, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” Fortunately, Dad was able to do both successfully.
“See these scars,” he told me one day, pointing to clear but fading lines, one on either side of his neck. I was probably six at the time. The scars were from an operation he’d had many years earlier, almost perfectly parallel, separated by the mass of his neck. But what did I know from operations?
“Got them from a Japanese sword,” he said. “They attacked the ship and we fought hand to hand. One of them ran me through, but I kept fighting, killed a dozen or so. But the sword stayed.”
Ship’s doctor had been wounded or killed or something, and Dad was afraid to remove the sword because it was holding all the blood in. So he had to live with the sword going through his neck for several days. Eating was a challenge. But he figured out that he could throw food down his throat and the sword would cut it into easily digestible sizes. Eventually, the doctor removed the sword and stitched Dad up.
Oh, those war years.
He also claimed to have met my mother while in the Navy. His ship was patrolling unknown waters in the South Pacific – history will show that Dad’s ship never left the Atlantic, and in fact, probably never left U.S. waters.
They visited an uncharted island ruled by – what else? – dinosaurs and prehistoric tribal people who had captured Mom and placed her in a pit, where she was to be sacrificed (eaten or something). In fact, Dad cast her as some sort of native girl (Mom’s childhood in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York, notwithstanding) who’d been selected for this ceremony. Anyway, Dad dove into the pit, dispatched a carnivore and a few of the indigenous people, and carried both my mother and a friendly brontosaurus to safety.
Side note: Dad claimed to have brought the brontosaurus (its name was Al) back to New York. There was a hump in our front yard in Richmond Hill (Queens) that conformed to Al’s alleged bulk, because Dad had buried his dino-buddy there. Apparently, Al had fallen in love with a chameleon, but the dinosaur accidentally stepped on his camouflaged girlfriend, and he soon died of a broken heart.
Anyway, Dad rescued Mom and they fell in love and got married. The picture you see here would have been taken shortly after the whole sacrificial pit/dinosaur island affair. Neither seems worse for the experience.
So today, Veteran’s Day, I’d like to salute my old man, a true Patriot and a great hero who always had the scars and imagination to prove it.