Sunday, August 16, 2015

Another WWII Guy

I can’t in good conscience neglect saying something about another of the WWII men I came to know. I wrote about some of them around D-Day, but V-J Day was August 14 -- still is, as far as I'm concerned -- and it's the appropriate time to write about this one.

He was  the second of the men coincidentally named John I got to know, and the time was during our stay in the mountains near Yosemite National Park. The scenery was beautiful, but the area was desolate  people-wise, and when Jean said, “You have to meet this couple who’ve opened the Bear Creek CafĂ©” I grasped the chance like a drowning man.

John and Fern had run successful food businesses in Southern California, and I never heard their story exactly of how they wound up in the boondocks with us. Probably something like our own story: seduction by the beauty of the place followed by a willing suspension of business judgement.

They were consummate professionals; they turned a rundown roadside diner into something great. The silverware matched, the dishes matched, the salt shakers gleamed (and matched), and the food was terrific. They put their hearts into it, and anywhere else it would have been a success. We were in a sort of time warp, though, and they succumbed a year or two before we did.  

After Jean and I packed it in, too, and moved back to Southern California, we renewed our friendship. Lots of rueful laughs about what we’d shared in the mountains, and the inhabitants thereof. Later on, John developed a heart condition. His medications put him into a kind of walking-sleep condition so different from the outgoing, optimistic guy we’d known that it was painful to watch. I guess it was painful for him, too, because finally he quit taking all his meds, and just died.

Only indirectly, I was able to pick up on what John had done in the war. I had to put one and one together; that was all I had. There was a framed photo of him in Navy uniform; but tellingly, he left the table one of our evenings together to watch a television documentary about the invasion of an island in the Pacific. The anecdote about swallowing a borrowed chaw of tobacco when the big Navy guns went off -- that was his. I figured he must have driven a landing craft, but the case was circumstantial; he never talked about it. That was the thing about the WWII guys.
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You may find that V-J Day is "officially" September 2. That's the textbook date. That's when the surrender documents were formally signed. There's also some debate about whether it should be August 14 or 15, the surrender or the announcement of the surrender. It doesn't matter, and it didn't then, either.