Grampa BobHe isn't really my Grampa, but I've known him since I was a child. He is my "camp neighbor", which in the U.P. of Michigan makes him closer than family. He is 86 years old, and has Leukemia. He was a Navy Corpsman attached to the Marine Corps and landed at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He taught me to hunt and fish, make wine, pick mushrooms, and to be a Man, a boy, and a father. If I amount to a pimple on his ***, I will have done great things in life.
Virtually every single time I see him, he teaches me something, and he tells me a story from his life. He is far and away the greatest man I know, and I would rather spend 5 minutes with him than 5 years with free access to the Playboy Mansion. And I'm the horniest man on planet Earth. Maybe in the galaxy.
Anyway, Wednesday night I went over to visit him. I hadn't spoken to him since April. I live in Northern Iowa, and he still lives in our little piece of heaven on the middle branch of the Escanaba River, in Michigan's beautiful and rugged Upper Peninsula. I sat and talked with him for a few minutes and we discussed the small parts that make up the big parts of our lives. I knew he was down over his failing health and his age, so I decided to ask about the old days, when he was young an vibrant. So I asked, "Where were you when John Kennedy died?"
Grampa looked up at me and smiled and said, "I was in High School", when he realized he had got it wrong.
He looked confused and I explained, "No Grampa. I think that was when World War II started. I mean in 1962 when JFK was shot".
He explained that he was in the old Mather "B" Mine, deep underground and went back to WWII. He said, "I remember when I got discharged in 1926..."
I reminded him that he was discharged in 1946 and we began to talk about when the war ended. He said, "I was with that ship, you know. The one that delivered the Atom bomb. I can't remember the name...."
I was shocked at this and said, "The Indianapolis! You were attached to the Indianapolis?" Immediately, the fog cleared, he nodded and we talked for 5 minutes like old friends, face to face, and heart to heart. He told me one of the greatest stories I ever heard.
Parmacists Mate First Class Robert Paquette was stationed aboard a hospital ship treating wounded from Okinawa. So many men were wounded that they needed to be transported back to Pearl Harbor, so he transferred to a faster vessel (I'll research which one when I can) and raced back to Pearl Harbor with the Indianapolis. There were five thousand men on a ship designed for a thousand, but all went well. When they arrived in Pearl, Bob stayed to help treat the wounded marines and sailors. At that time, the Indianoplis took off for Tinian with the atom bomb destined for Hiroshima. Upon returning, they were torpedoed and sunk, with the loss of 900 men to exposure, drowning, and sharks.
The greatest man I ever knew spoke off this with pride and reverence, humility, and the quiet relief that he survived the war and raised the family that sat around his camp with us. We had a quick glass of home made wine and he trundled off to bed. I stood up and walked to the kitchen table, thankful for my life, my brush with the greatest generation, and the closeness of a man I consider the very best of us, Grampa Bob.