Sunday, December 7, 2008

Commemorations and Great Men

So today was a pretty busy day for me; my calendar looked like this:

1130 am - 3 pm Toys for Tots brunch, Charlestown Navy Yard
1200 pm - 1230 pm Pearl Harbor Commemoration on a ex-USS CASSIN YOUNG
2 pm - 3 pm Pearl Harbor Commemoration, Faneuil Hall
4 pm Christmas Tree Lighting, Charlestown Navy Yard

My plan was to hit the brunch, drop off toys and glad-hand, head to the first commemoration (CASSIN YOUNG is on the Navy Yard) and slip back to the brunch for another mimosa or two before I had to head to Faneuil Hall.

The weather shot my plans in the ass a little. The first snow of the year here in Boston came today; as the decks of CASSIN YOUNG were getting slick, and there were going to be some elderly Pearl Harbor survivors at the ceremony, it was delayed 30 minutes and moved indoors, and then move back to the ship for a wreath laying. Great - no mimosas. It doesn't matter, it's the kids and the survivors that matter today.

At the Toys for Tots brunch I ran into the first of two remarkable people. His name is Rudy. I was excited to go to the brunch because I knew he'd be there. To meet him is to meet a thoroughly pleasant, smiling and jovial old man, still in is USMC Sergeant Major's uniform - one that has a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts on it, as well as a master parachutist and diver's pin. To know his story is amazing; I once heard it from him when he spoke at a memorial event. His first landing was at this hellish place known as Iwo Jima. There he received his first Purple Heart. His second landing (and Purple Heart) was at Inchon. He was also at Hue City and Khe-Sanh, and got his third Purple Heart in there somewhere. Dunno' where he got his Silver Star; you just don't ask people where they get them. I made this mistake once; I was a young midshipman, and during "Marine Week" in summer training I asked a grizzled old Colonel where he got his. He looked at me and smiled, "Well son, this one time I got my ass in a crack and had to pry it out." I remember he smoked a pipe, but kept it upside down. He was more open about this, "That way I can smoke in the rain."

Okay, so back to Rudy. Between WWII and Vietnam he has 30 years of service and retires. He then spends the next 20 working security at U.S. embassies across the globe. And finally, when he's done doing that, he retires again and spends his time doing Toys for Tots. I wish I had a picture of this man. I can only guess the horrors he has seen and lived through in supporting and defending the Constitution, and all the stress and trauma he has been through. Yet he is just the happiest, kindest and most upbeat and caring person you could meet. Old but spry, you can tell he's a Marine for life. To me, he is an example of service. He had every right after WWII to say "I'm done America, and now I'm going to live my life secure in the confidence that I have done my part".

So, I drop off my toys, have a quick bite, the mimosa line was too long, and I head to the CASSIN YOUNG Pearl Harbor Memorial. There I run into another man I've met several times before. His name is Don, and he's a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had just joined the Navy and had been stationed on Ford Island for about a month before the attack. In the two years I have been going to these memorials, he's brought up some interesting stories. If Rudy is spry, Don is the opposite; he's hobbled and slowing down and he knows that his "turn" is coming soon. But he's out here every year, running this memorial. The most moving part of the memorial for me was shaking his hand after wreaths were laid taps was played; he extended his hand and said, "I'm sorry about my eyes. Taps always does that to me." I could see the tears behind his glasses and running down his face. I told him it was okay; it's nothing to be sorry about. He also spoke at Faneuil Hall, giving the same remarks, but it was just as interesting to hear them again. It saddens me that as the years pass, less and less attention seems to be paid to this event.

The Christmas Tree lighting was fun.

Okay, it's bed time. But before I go, I'd like to talk about Toys for Tots one more time. Initially, it was intended that the Marines would actually work in Santa's Workshop for part of the year. It didn't work too well. There is early video of these failures:


Randal Graves said...

Shit, Rudy went through some hellish places.

MRMacrum said...

Yeah, I was taught early as a military brat to not ask about ribbons, medals and such. If they chose to fill you in , consider it an honor and listen with respect. But never ask.

Hence, I have but second hand stories from my uncle George's time as a POW in the Phillipines. MY other uncle Herb who gathered a slew of medals never once talked about his time in the Pacific storming beaches of one island after another. I only saw his medals once and that was after he and my aunt were dead and I was sorting out their things.

The one thing I have figured is, the most heroic are the ones who make the least of what they did. They had a duty and they did what they could to fulfill it. Rudy seems to have taken this idea as far as any one man could have.