Your Intentions Towards My Daughter. Honorable, Yes?

Before coming to his senses, The Logging Road Cyclist had pretensions of becoming an academic. You know, professor, research, students, being a smart guy. At this stage of his life, he finagled a spot in a Ph.D. program at a Prestigious Private University. Here, as fellow students, he and #1 wife met, courted and got engaged. They had a good run at it: a couple of years together at PPU, then 6 years of marriage, the first 5 of which were really pretty good until their different but equally strong types of craziness caused the whole thing to implode with a speed that shocked both onlookers and themselves.

Among other interesting things, #1 had her parents. They were really quite remarkable people, Mr. and Mrs. 1, and had lived through exciting times. They had met in Finland before the war when the Finns were fighting the Soviets. Separately, they had volunteered, she as a nurse, he as an ambulance driver. When the war started for the rest of Europe, they came back to the States and he went into the army. The black sheep son of a very wealthy Eastern family, he went in not as an officer, as one might expect, but rather as an enlisted man, and when the US entered the war he was an NCO in a parachute infantry unit (as TLRC recalls, the 101st Division).

At some point, he transferred into the OSS, where he became a commando, and his war began in earnest.

During the time that TLRC knew Mr. 1, he heard a lot of war stories. It was odd, because Mr. 1 would confide more of these to TLRC than he would to his own son. And it was not the case that Mr. 1 liked to talk about it all that much. Not only did the son hear very little about it, but it was clear that being put on the spot made Mr. 1 extremely anxious. There was a distant relative who was writing a book about the Allied air campaign around the Balkans (where Mr. 1 did most of his fighting). This fellow wanted to come and ask Mr. 1 some questions about how the OSS had helped downed aircrew escape captivity and get back into friendly hands. The notion of talking about this, even in the most general terms, upset Mr. 1 dramatically. For several days before the visit, he drank even more heavily than usual, was obviously very upset at the prospect of talking about the war and almost called it off several times. When the relative arrived, TLRC almost pulled him aside to ask him to forget about it, but didn’t. In the event, all sat down to dinner, the guest asked no questions at all, and Mr. 1 (clearly agitated) offered up a few comments about how hard it was to move aircrew through enemy territory because they had only the sheepskin boots they wore in the bombers, and were in poor physical condition because all they did was fly, not walk through mountains. The relative (obviously a sensitive and tactful man) nodded, made no comment and left the next morning to the relief of all.

Mostly, Mr. 1 had fought with Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia. Several times he mentioned being dropped behind the enemy just before the Anzio landings. In all he made something like 25 combat jumps, an astounding number to have lived through. He told TLRC about having to retreat up to a plateau in Yugoslavia to escape the Germans, and wintering there. He talked about how handling plastic explosive gave him headaches, and how after a while, he got so good with it that he could blow railroad iron with small amounts, by setting the charges offset on opposite sides, so the explosion would snap the rail “just like scissors”. He had a map of Yugoslavia on the wall of his study, next to an OSS beret and a Fairbairn-Sykes dagger.

Mr. 1 mentioned occasionally his CO, General Donovan, a comrade, Sterling Hayden, and another friend or two. He told TLRC that he alway had a knack for handling automatic weapons, and while his buddies would accidentally fire long bursts, he could click off rounds one at a time if he wanted to. After they were taught how to pick locks, a couple of them got into the commissary and stole goodies, after which there was hell to pay, apparently. As a final exam, he had to infiltrate a shipyard on the eastern seaboard, steal some sort of specified information or document and come back, and was told that if he got caught, no one was going to pull him out of prison.

Although these stories were told in good humor, and in a matter of fact way, it was clear that the war had done some damage to Mr. 1. Nightmares were part of it. He was a henpecked alcoholic who started drinking openly at noon, but probably earlier on the sly. He seemed to need the authority of Mrs. 1 to get through his days. In retrospect, TLRC probably heard so much from Mr. 1 because they drank so much together, those being the days when TLRC was only too happy to oblige somone who needed a companion to drink whiskey with. It was always pretty clear to TLRC that for most of his adult life (and likely at this time) Mr. 1 was not someone to trifle with.

One of TLRC’s fondest memories of both Mr 1 and his own father was at the TLRC-#1 wedding reception, when the families met for the first time. TLRC’s father had been in the Pacific during the war, manning a 90mm antiaircraft battery, first on the beach during the Battle of Midway, then attached to the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal from the landings on Tulagi through October, 1942, when he was evacuated with malaria. He and Mr. 1 found themselves together, and Mr. 1 asked (already knowing the answer, since he and TLRC had spoken of it early on) about the war. The two sat together quietly talking about it, looking relaxed and somehow strong together. There was no posturing or bravura, just a calm aura tying together two men who had survived something awful and significant that they but no one else there could share. They had made it to the other side and had children joining their lives to prove it.

It is the first two stories that Mr. 1 had for TLRC that are clearest in memory, and TLRC believes that they were not shared because TLRC was a drinking buddy (he wasn’t yet) or because he was a young man who really wanted to listen  and who had a pretty good grasp of the course of the war.

These were delivered within seconds of TLRC stepping across the threshold of Mr. and Mrs. 1’s home for the first time. TLRC and #1 had arrived and stepped into the foyer. #1 and her mother instantly disappeared into the warren-like maze of the house, leaving Mr. 1 and TLRC alone.

“I was in the OSS during the war, you know what that was?” TLRC nodded. “I was in Yugoslavia, with the partisans. We did a lot of combat jumps. I always carried two .45’s. I filed down the sears so they’d have a hair trigger, and I’d jump with them cocked and locked. I took a lot of criticism for that. People said it was too dangerous, but when you land, you have to be ready to fight.” TLRC nodded again, thinking, does he really think that one of his daughter’s boyfriends from a place like PPU is going to know what a 1911 is, what a sear does, why one might file it, or the significance of jumping from an airplane  with cocked and locked .45’s? Well, TLRC did, and perhaps this is a reason that Mr. 1 later thought TLRC was worth telling his stories to, among other things. (To summarize, a 1911 .45 was the standard US sidearm, a big pistol, the sear is part of the firing mechanism that one can, with risk, polish to make the trigger more sensitive, and cocked and locked means, basically, that the gun is one thumb flick away from being ready to set off with that hair trigger. This is a very dangerous set of circumstances to set up with two .45’s holstered about your body as you engage in a parachute landing. But then, a parachute landing behind enemy lines is probably dangerous enough to cancel this out. So Mr. 1 apparently thought.)

“One night I was sleeping in this hut. I always kept one .45 under my pillow, and one in my sleeping bag. A couple of bad guys got in and pointed their guns at me and one pulled the .45 out from under my pillow and he thought he had me. I shot them both with the one in my sleeping bag, right through the bag.”

“This other time we were in a camp, and a couple of guys came up and I don’t know why, pointed their guns at us. I went to their commander and told him that my training was to kill anyone that did that, and I would if they did it again. That night they did, so I dropped one of them, and the other ran off. It didn’t happen again. Well, come on in! Mrs. 1 and I are really glad you two could make it all the way up here. Can I get you a drink?”