A Twitter thread by Jenn Knee.
I have a story about Pearl Harbor—it starts in 1997 when I was discharged from the Marines [the first time] and ends in 2013 on the deck of an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer named after a Spanish American War hero—Admiral George Dewey.
Wanna hear it?
When I left active duty in 1997 I was a punk. I’d been fighting battles that would haunt me for a long time—and I was mad at authority, the Corps and the world. I moved into my Gram’s house in SoCal, started working part time and waited for community college classes to start.
Gram lives in [still does] this *searches for right adjective* gram lived in a modular home community for people older than 55. “An old people trailer park” is never the right description—none of these homes have wheels, Jennie.” Brand new home shows up next door one weekend.
I’m coming and going. Sleeping in a lot. Working the holiday crowd and taking a couple of classes. I saunter out one morning and warily eyeball the old man walking the length of the coach—that’s what gram calms them. Coaches. So old dude is walking up and down, taking notes.
I remember saying good morning, [it was well after Noon] and being ignored. Whatever.
School then work then home.
This cycle continues for a few weeks then I notice framework being laid next to the neighbors coach. No one lives there.
Old dude builds. Measures. Leaves.
I come home one day, midday, and he’s there in his glory. Sleeveless t-shirt, worn out jeans hanging held up by broad read suspenders and a leather tool belt canted off his hip.
“Just what is your story, kid? Why do you have so much damn time on your hands?” I bristled.
“I just got out of the Marines—I’m taking a break before I get married and start college in Mew Mexico. I earned a break.”
How long were you in the Marines, kid?
“Four years, sir. I did four years.”
Kid. [he honestly laughed as he shook his head] Kid, I served all six years —
—of World War II and I wasn’t even 18 and already stationed in Hawaii when they hit the Harbor and I reckon I never came home and took a break.
Go to my truck, grab that other belt—make sure you’ve got a pencil and measuring tape. Bring a hammer, too—you earned a break, huh?
I may never know why I complied—it wasn’t a question or an invitation—he told me to grab a tool belt and I did.
We built a deck the full length of his sisters coach—I quit one of my classes cause I didn’t like it anyways—and we worked for hours each day.
Sometimes we talked.
Plenty of time we just worked. He was patient, a great teacher. He let me make mistakes, taught me the value of measuring at least twice before I cut.
That deck was finished and stained in no time and he suggested we build a porch for my grandma next. Ok.
When the porch was
done I knew a little more about the attack in Pearl Harbor—but not much.
Bud didn’t talk about it.
I knew more about myself and a lot about that grumpy old guy I’d first seen. He’s “deafer’n Cooter Brown and them hearing aids short out when he sweats—gonna hafta holler.”
I’d met his wife Anita—she’s his fifth he reckon‘d he’d keep her since she stayed this long.
He’d given up the bottle for her—no rehab or nuthin—just up and dumped out the alcohol after he read an article about Jeckyl & Hyde personalities and she’d confirmed it described him.
“Just like that, kid. I didn’t need to drink anymore if it made her feel bad—hell—it made me feel bad next day anyhow.”
His sister lives there now, he’s there visiting one day.
“We was talking and I figure I’ll take you down to the courthouse and jest adopt you cuz your more —
—like my daughter than my own daughter is and she don’t like me much no how.”
[left school in Missouri in 6th grade to help at his mama’s restaurant, lied about his age to enlist. Incredibly capable, talented and intelligent and he never ever mastered grammar; lost that accent.]
I remember feeling warm all over and loved—I knew he was serious. In a few short months we’d forged an incredible connection.
“No. No need to go to the courthouse—you can be my Pop without any paperwork, Bud.”
Ok then, Daughter. Let’s go have supper. I bought my first Father’s
Day Card in 1998—by then I lived in Albuquerque, was married and in college. We talked on the phone every week. He and Anita drove their RV to ALBQ twice—they were always part of “home” when I’d go and visit.
I encouraged him to reconnect w/ his own kids, mend relationships.
He was fiercely proud of me when I re-enlisted in the wake of September 11th. I talked to him about that decision hours after the attacks—while my [ex]husband was still secured ON Quantico [and families who lived off base were not granted access.]
He understood war was coming.
So. Pop is my Pop. I re-enlist. Spend time stationed at Quantico. We were stationed in 29 Palms [its a dry heat] and my favorite contractor loved to make the drive up the hill to visit and do projects around my home.
My [ex]husband deployed. So did all of my friends.
Pop was a great listener during those deployments. There was a lot of unknown for the first wave. When they’d call. If they’d call. If they were ok. Mail took a long time—a month initially. He gently reminded me that their mail took months—and to keep writing anyways. I did.
After OIF 1 [the actual OIF 1] ex and I visited Pop and ex started talking a story and Pop was quiet. Then upset. Then he left the room to compose himself and returned and told us, in great detail, of the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was 2004.
He talked for hours.
Actual hours. And we sat and listened. Before I met Bud, Pearl Harbor was something I’d read briefly about—and something they’d mentioned in boot camp. I’m not a history buff and Pop never really opened up.
I honestly never really grasped Pearl Harbor until 2004.
We left that night and talked about it all the way back up the hill. Anita called the next day and said Bud was “bad off and she thought it was from talkin about Pearl.”
I got on the phone and listened more.
And then had the brilliant idea that he might be better served by a
therapist. He balked, but agreed. He stated therapy at a CBOC—it was easy to set up and he loved it.
We didn’t talk much about therapy, but he kept going and life continued. He celebrated all of my accomplishments and visited whenever we were within RV distance.
He wore his Pearl Harbor hat a lot more. One night in 2007 we were out at dinner. I was “home” visiting [divorced by now and out of the Corps again] and someone stopped at our table and thanked him for his service.
He bawled like a baby—honestly sat at the table and cried.
Cried so hard he put his vatos locos [my joke about his sunglasses] on inside and didn’t take them off until we got home.
“Daughter, I can’t ever imagine someone just walking up to me—a stranger—and shaking my hand like that and saying thank you. Never in my life ...”
[I do that often—to veterans older than me, because of Pop’s reaction.]
I once heard the story of him being on the water for an extended period of time—the Dewey made it out of the harbor but another ship he was on during the war was sunk.
“We got a three day pass after that.”
If you’re still reading, I buried the lede. I was caught up in my Pop memories—it happens this time of year.
Years passed, and age caught up to him. He was in and out of the hospital with some form of geriatric blood disorder. Anita called and asked me to come—he asked for me.
In 2013 I was in Virginia, dealing w/ my own post AFG “issues” still angry about my fiancé’s 2012 suicide—something Pop spent a lot of time listening about and figuring my life out.
When Anita called, I went home.
He was really sick. And old. And the treatment wasn’t a cure.
He lit up when I walked into the hospital. Started grousing about the cost of the blood treatment—it’s not covered by the durn insurance and it’s either this or hospice.
“Hospice feels like suicide though, Daughter, and I know how you feel about suicide.”
My heart broke.
I begged him to come home. Just come home. He maintained it was suicide—just a sectioned [sic] type.
My brain scrambled—I said if he’d let the doctor discharge w/ hospice orders I’d set up a trip to the base in San Diego.
When his doctor walked in for rounds
Pop said “write the papers up and send me home—I’m goin to see the Navy again before I die.”
I’d spoken to the doc already, knew hospice was inevitable and understood that my role in the family was to make Pop ok with that process.
Shit. Time to arrange a trip to Coronado.
[flashback] These are some of my favorite photos with Pop [and Anita—Mop]. Their HOA posts flags for Veterans Day—one for every resident who is a Vet. In 2010 I made them pose for photos. He’d had a rough year and I worried it might be my last chance to take these shots.
Time to make good on my word.
I called an old friend—a Marine who worked for the Navy in San Diego.
She set up a visit to Coronado— the Dewey—Pop’s station during the attack on Pearl Harbor—was in port.
In Coronado. He didn’t just get to see the Navy—we took him back home.
We had a great visit—such a great visit I sent an email to a friend who worked for CMC so he could pass accolades to SecNav thanking the crew of the Dewey. That email ended up floating around NMCI then published on a Navy blog [and various other places] https://amp.businessinsider.com/dying-navy-sailor-visits-uss-dewey-2013-11 …
For people not inclined to click links—for the “240 characters & a picture types,” I’ll share some of it here.
[Full disclosure: I pulled the pics and captions from my FB. I remember the day, obviously, but digging this out to share reminded me about minutiae I’d forgotten.😭]
Please for the love of all that is holy, mute me if these tweets are annoying you.
Maybe you already have. Cool. Cool.
A group of Sailors greeted us in the parking lot. Pop was eager to shake hands. They explained they were taking him topside.
And they did. They carried his wheelchair up three flights of stairs. The kid [petty officer] behind Pop in this shot was the Dewey’s Sailor of the year—so he had the honor of pushing the wheelchair during the visit.
The crew saluted as he boarded the ship. I walked across the gangplank with the rest of our little entourage—it was a sight to see, for sure, those men and women lined up and saluting my sweet old Pop.
They literally waited in line for turns to shake his hand and ask him questions and listen to him talk about the 'Old Dewey.' He didn’t speak loudly, and his escort [petty] officer repeated everything he said for the group to hear.
The petty officer to his left just presented him with a challenge coin. If you look carefully you can see he's crying.
They gave him a commemorative ship's plaque with his name on it and designated him a 'shipmate.’
If you notice, he's wearing a new cap in this shot.
They took turns taking a knee and leaning in to listen and then shared the anecdote with the rest of the Sailors. I remember listening intently hoping he wasn't going to share any of his most colorful stories—“we were fast and lose in those days, Daughter. It was different.” 😳
Smiling as I type this—that old man had some.sea.stories! He worked on an island in the Pacific for years after the Navy—testing weapons. Those stories, too. Woo boy it was a different Navy. Thankful we have modern safety regs.
Coins, caps, plaques, certificates, handshakes... they asked for photos with him... what an amazing reception.
The best part about that ☝🏻☝🏻photo is it was the Sailors' idea. They asked for the shot under the gun after Bud spent some time telling him about the 'old Dewey's' armament.
Petty Officer Flores (L) ran down to the mess deck and removed the photo of the original USS Dewey from the bulkhead. It still had the bolts in the corners when he presented it to Bud for his "approval." He said “Well thar she is!” when he saw the black and white image.
If you look carefully you can see the bolts still in the corners of the photo.
They quite literally unscrewed it from the wall to bring it topside for Bud to see 'his' Dewey—that still resonates with me.
They're trying to decide if that's him standing on the ship in the photo.
The Sailors listened and talked and listened and took photos until Bud finally declared he was tired.
This is the burly crew who volunteered to carry Bud on and off the ship.
They're getting ready to take him back to the pier and they're all still talking.
They piped him ashore. That honor is reserved for retiring commanding officers and people like the president.
I teased him later for clapping. “Pop, they were applauding YOU—“ and he said, matter of factly, “That’s fine, but I was plauding them. They’re my heroes.”
Down, down, down they carried his chair. Three flights and he cried quietly, the whole way.
We went to lunch in the Gaslamp afterwards. Pop ordered triple layer chocolate cake for his meal.
Seemed a fitting way to top off his afternoon—the best day of his life.
That evening, settled in his recliner, he started to cry. “Well, I'm ready to go. This was a perfect day. You can do whatever you want with my tools but promise you'll bury me with these."
He was asleep when I left. Sound asleep with two hands full of his coins from the Dewey
He died 13 days later and, true to their word, the ship’s crew were the honor guard for his burial and came to the house for the reception.
My buddy Donnie [Dec 1 thread] played the pipes and it was a damn good funeral for a damn good man.
That’s my Pearl Harbor story. It started with a deck and spanned almost two decades. It’s a love story, a story of FRamily, resilience, service, silence, healing, listening, and always measuring twice ‘cause lumber ain’t cheap, Daughter.
Thanks for your service, Pop. -fin-