Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good Night to The Greatest Generation

It's been a busy week since The Flying Curmudgeon last posted.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Can Christmas already be staring us in the face? They're going crazy with Yuletide bargains down at the local Super Wal-Mart.

TFC thinks Charlie Brown was on to something when he thought Christmas had become too commercialized. How many years has it been since Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown! came out? 35? 40?

Too many, that's for sure.

(While you're out there hitting the malls, fighting for a parking space while you go broke saving money, don't forget to give some thought to The Reason for the season. :-) )

TFC's got to hand it to the folks last week, however. On Wednesday evening, The Flying Curmudgeon had a plane-load of passengers who were trying to get up to an airport in the Northeast.

Unfortunately, the fog had rolled in late in the afternoon, and when this particular airport gets fog, frequently "that's all she wrote," for the rest of the night. The poor people, who had been stuck at the airport (TFC right along with them) all afternoon, had no sooner sat down on the aircraft when Air Traffic Control put out an updated weather report, indicating the weather was below this particular airport's lowest, legal instrument approach landing minimums.

Everyone had to deplane and be rescheduled on other flights the next morning. A lucky few were able to get booked to airports in adjacent states and rent cars.

To those folks who responded with dignity and understanding in less than ideal circumstances, "Thank you," from The Flying Curmudgeon.

Now - on to the purpose of this post...

A family friend died recently, unbeknownst to TFC, until he got back from his trip last week.

This man was named Andy. Andy was 83 years old.

If you had seen him walking down the street, if you had bothered to notice him at all, you would have probably only noticed an elderly gentleman - walking with a slight limp.

Andy suffered from the typical afflictions of old age - arthritis, circulatory issues, etc. He had had a stroke at some point, if memory serves.

But his mind was still sharp. A retired businessman, he was single and enjoyed visiting with his many friends and family. One of those friends was The Flying Curmudgeon's bro-in-law, who happens to be a General Practicioner.

One day several years ago, Andy went to see the doctor at the local, walk-up Family Practice clinic. Complaining about some pain, the doc took some X-rays of Andy and was surprised when he saw some unusual objects in the film. When Andy was asked about the objects, he merely shrugged and said, "Oh, those. They're courtesy of the Imperial Japanese Marines."

The "objects" were fragments of shrapnel that Andy had carried around since he was a 19-year-old Marine in the first wave at Tarawa - on 20 November, 1943.

The doctor was TFC's brother-in-law, and he and Andy became fast friends. How could you not like someone as unassuming as Andy? He rarely spoke of his experience at Tarawa. If asked, he would simply respond that he had done his duty.

Andy was typical of The Greatest Generation. Their values forged in the crucible of the Great Depression, they all did their duty. When they came home, they rarely spoke of the horror they had witnessed.

Along with his fellow Marines, Andy braved the withering fire of the defending Japanese Imperial Marines. Stepping out of that AMTRAC on the lagoon-side of the coral reef, he must have been terrified watching the machine-gun bullets ripping the water in front of him. Still, he and his fellow Marines got out of their landing-craft and began to head for the beach, crossing that long expanse of waist-deep water, knowing full well that most of them would not make it.

In three days of ferocious fighting, the Marines at Tarawa suffered over 3,000 casualties, with more than 800 killed. Of the nearly 4,800-man Japanese garrison, less than 200 survived the battle.

In addition to its tactical value in the greater campaign for the Gilberts and Marshall islands, the invasion of Tarawa provided many lessons-learned to war-time planners.

These lessons helped to ensure victory at places like Kwajalein, Pelelieu, Iwo Jima, Tinian - ultimately, the War in the Pacific.

Andy is gone, now.

He joins a growing number of World War II veterans, at a rate of 1,000/day.

The Flying Curmudgeon is honored whenever he has one of these gentlemen (and ladies) on his aircraft.

The next time you see an elderly gentleman struggling to get somewhere, ask him if he is a veteran. If he is, help him to his car, or into the store. (You should do this anyway.) Give him a pat on the back and thank him for his service.

Thank you for your service, Andy. Rest in Peace.


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