Seeing him lying in the ICU yesterday, I decided he was a drunk old cowboy that needed to live better.
70 years ago last month, six months after being wounded during the sinking of his destroyer in the Battle of Savo Island, he was commanding a landing craft during the assault on Saipan when he pulled a screaming marine out of the water. As he did so, he found that the Marine had been cut in half by Japanese gunfire and was so horrified that he dropped the dying man back in the water, recovering enough to scream at the Marines who were still alive in the front of the boat to get onto the beach so he could back off the shore and pick up the next wave of men.
He drove his boat onto a lot of beaches, and the Marines in the front of the boat were almost always killed as soon as he dropped the ramp. The Marines knew that this would happen, and once embarked, they gave him letters to their parents, their girlfriends, their wives. He kept them in an ammo can that one of his boat’s two .50 caliber machine guns had emptied so they wouldn’t get wet, or wrinkled.
When he came home, he delivered as many of the letters as he could afford to, in person. He quickly ran out of money, so he would find whatever work he could for a couple of weeks, buy another ticket, and track down the next loved one. He did this until he completed the task.
For three years, alone, using every resource he had, he lived for no other purpose than to bring the last words of brave men to the people they loved and to tell their families how they died, because he thought they deserved more than a government form letter.
And I decided he was a drunk old cowboy that needed to live better. God forgive me.