Memorial Day Post

My grandfathers came home from the Great War. My father and his brothers all survived World War Two. I made it through the Cold War in one piece. All three generations of us knew plenty of comrades who didn’t, and we honor them today.

This is a post I wrote on May 29, 2011, with memories from my father, gone almost 17 years now. I still miss him.

I’m thinking of my dad, a Navy and Air Force veteran, who passed away on May 31st, 2007 … almost four years ago.

When I was talking to my tour group about the WWII aircraft on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum a few days ago, I was thinking about the young men … many of them teenagers … who flew and crewed them.  This morning I remembered some old letters my father wrote about his wartime experiences as a teenager.

Here’s a letter he wrote about his experience with absinthe in 1943:

This took place in December, 1943 on the Island of New Caledonia, a French colony south of the equator about midway between Fiji and Australia. At the time I was a Navy gunner aboard the MS Chester Sun (a.k.a. the Chester Maru) a merchant oil tanker in service to the Navy. We seldom went ashore because there wasn’t much to do in Noumea (the capital), besides there were a sizable number of lepers on the island. There was also a famous whorehouse there called the Pink House – the Pink House held no attraction for we young Navy boys. It was rumored that Admiral Halsey had a financial interest in the walled Pink House. The rumor was almost believable because MP’s and SP’s who kept order surrounded the house. The VD films we youngsters had seen in boot camp were still vivid in our minds. About all there was to do on the island was to walk around on dry ground and maybe drink overpriced beer at a French bar.

At one bar I was offered some absinthe and being young and ignorant I drank two tiny glasses of that horrible foul tasting poison. In a very short time I became paralyzed – couldn’t navigate. The boys I was with propped me up, one on either side, and half-carried me back to the boat landing. When they got too tired of holding me up, they grabbed hold of my Navy uniform collar and dragged me the rest of the way. Now we know why sailors wear those large wide collars. All this while I couldn’t navigate by myself nor could I see. Nothing seemed to work except my mind – I could hear and think but couldn’t speak nor move. I seemed acutely aware of everything that was happening. My friends were speculating whether I was going to die. I was loaded into the small boat and ferried out to the ship. Luckily, our ship was heavily loaded with oil and was riding low in the water. It was simple for my friends to heave me up onto the deck. Had the ship been riding higher in the water I expect they would have had to haul me up in a cargo net.

My friends tenderly placed me in my bunk (thank goodness it was a lower bunk) and went about their business. Now and then some of them would come back to make sure I was still breathing. It took many hours before I came around and a couple of days to get over the headache. That was 54 years ago and I have never touched absinthe since.

In those days there were not the temptations that youth face today. I, at 18 years of age, was willing to risk the unknown (absinthe). What if someone had offered me crack cocaine, heroin, meth, or some other drug? Would I have risked it? Probably. Today, when I find myself being judgmental about today’s youth and the drug culture, I ask myself, “If I were an 18 year old youth today, would I be part of the scene?” I would hope not but you never really know.

You know, I think I’ll just stop there. I miss you, Dad.

3 thoughts on “Memorial Day Post

  • Lovely letter. I guess no one told him that absinte is supposed to be mixed with water. I guess the paralysis would mitigate the alleged aphrodisiac effect. Great story, though.

  • I myself once experienced intoxicated paralysis. We were at a restaurant in Madrid, but we’d been at some bars earlier. It wasn’t absinthe … just regular booze … but all of a sudden I couldn’t move or talk. I sat at this table for about an hour, immobile and silent, until my friends manhandled me into a cab and took me back to the base. I remember everyone in the restaurant staring at me, and how embarrassed I felt.

  • I’ve seen similar paralysis from peeps smoking too-powerful cannabis flowers. When it hits they need to sit quietly or lie down. Vertigo, queasiness, room spinning. Temporary paralysis, any attempt to move is contraindicated for about an hour- unable. Very similar to over boozing but no hangover later. Sent for an ambulance for one but she was fine too. The sawbones gave her a fancy medical name for it but I can’t recall it. Luckily we’re pot heads and not junkies, friends giving friends more powerful stuff is deadly for them. Pot doesn’t kill, just confuses and, sometimes, puts you down for an hour. In my aging family almost everybody gave up the booze years back, me too. Stopping reefer is harder.
    ‘Tod’ recently posted…Cheapskate Tips: Salvaged, Reused DIY Yard UmbrellaMy Profile

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