The Fourth of July is nearing, and perhaps it’s time to again give a little recognition to that quickly passing generation: those who served in WWII
I’ve already placed some images from my family archive on the Veteran’s Day entry, including an image of my Father manning a Bofors training piece, as well as photos both by, and of, my uncle taken in France and Germany. Fortunately, both my father and my uncle are yet with us, with my father being in remarkably good health.
But I thought that here I’d mention another man of that generation. This one, unrelated to me, but a man whom I was privileged to get to know quite well through business.
His long-time nickname, used even in correspondence and on memos, was “Obie”. And I assure you that despite his white hair it had NOTHING whatsoever to do with Star Wars, but everything to do with his initials.
I won’t give out his last name here. But anyone stumbling across the image further down, and seeming to recognize the older man on the right, while recalling an acquaintance with the Christian name of “Roswell Edison …” would have the identity.
Obie’s been gone over a decade now. And as I think back on it, the image below was probably taken of us not too long before his passing. I think, at his own request.
He was a talented man, who had among his various experiences trained as a fighter pilot during the war [for flying Thunderbolts as I recall], but who was never actually sent into combat due to a declining need for officer pilots overseas.
It was obvious however that his Air Corps pilot qualifying and training experience had had a life-long effect on him. Moreso perhaps than having also gone to college, something that traditionally shapes the young man for the future.
He was disciplined, orderly, assertive and aggressive in a positive sense, and prided himself on his ability to, as they would nowadays say, adapt and overcome. He was also good humored and quick witted, if somewhat wry.
One quirk that he did have was that of good-naturedly “testing” people. That is to say, he presented them with, possibly disquieting, little challenges just in order to judge how they would handle the matter. He attributed the impulse to something originating in his officer candidate training experiences. He said that they would throw little shocks at you so as to determine how well and how maturely you could handle them. I suppose it was to see if you had the right stuff to fly combat.
I, don’t know. Maybe he just liked subtle, slightly provoking jokes.
Eventually, I one day turned to him and said, “Haven’t we known each other for years now?” He acknowledged we had.
“And haven’t you had your “testing” fun repeatedly, and found I’m pretty much unflappable? After all I know it’s a game.“
He acknowledged as much.
“You have yourself referred to me as a good friend, despite our generational differences?” Yes, that was true too, he admitted.
“So what’s the further point”?
He laughed and acknowledged there was no longer any. And that was that, the end of it.
Some people didn’t take it so well, but hey, that’s life. On the other hand, some did.
One instance of the kind of response I think he was looking for and know he appreciated, occurred during a long drive back to the city wherein we had to pass through some small lakeside resort town about mid-afternoon and late season. Not having had lunch, and with no obvious place to go anywhere in sight, we loosened our ties, left our jackets in the car, and got out at a slightly fru-fru looking deli-and ice cream shop, only to find it manned by a lone high-school aged girl of indomitably cheerful disposition.
Being naturally cheerful himself, Obie wasted no time after placing the carryout order in engaging in what was a transparently fake curmudgeon-like mini-lecture on how he expected the sandwich to be the best he ever had considering the prices and the tony pretensions of the place. She assured him it would be. “Oh yeah, how do you know?”
“Because”, she happily announced while looking right back at him, “I’m making it myself!”
He beamed at her like she was his own granddaughter. “That’s what I’m talking about!” he said, turning to me.
“Yeah, that’s fine but let’s have a little fewer of these demonstrations of how the human spirit can rise to the occasion, eh?”
He was a good citizen. And as well as a long term USAF Reserve or National Guard pilot (I’ve now forgotten which) who enjoyed flying his own private plane, he was a volunteer fireman back when his upscale township was still semi-rural, and a proficient HAM radio operator, who was always ready to assist in emergencies.
He tried to get me interested in “HAM” radio operation. But even then it was in what I supposed was its waning days; and although a serious involvement probably serves as a practical entre into electronics, I was never able to build up any interest in it.
I always did admire his draughtsmanship though, as he had spent some post-college time on the board before moving on and up. That, skill in technical drawing and lettering, is something CAD and Graphics courses had never given me, much less the subjects of philosophy and the history of law.
Obie was also, and the significance of this trait may at first seem elusive, a good and conscientious record keeper. The point here being the diligence, care, and sense of responsibility he felt for important matters he had been involved in, and toward those who might need to rely on an accurate and truthful record.
This no doubt seems a very small matter and hardly worth mentioning as a character related trait, until one reflects on where we as a nation are when even Federal agencies now “lose” information at their apparent convenience.
It has to do with moral responsibility, you see.
The fighter pilot is on the right
That acceptance of responsibility, and courage and grace in the face of it, came through clearly as he eventually faced death.
He had been for many years, a smoker, and admitted that it was unwise. But, he stated frankly that it was a powerful habit dating back to his military days, and one which afforded him certain benefits in stressful situations. After getting to know him well, I suggested – over drinks – that he stop smoking; while making it plain that I would only suggest it to him that once. He candidly, and even vulnerably replied that although he was as I certainly knew, proud of his ability to “handle any situation”, this one, had him more or less licked. To closely paraphrase, he told me, “My daughters have come up to me crying, pleading with me to quit, and I have tried … but it creeps back.”
As this was just about the time our national anti-smoking mania was climbing toward its peak, it’s probably not surprising to hear that once he was discovered with “shadows” or spots on his lungs, and the diagnosis became “terminal without treatment, likely terminal with”, one of his attending physicians, a zealous young man, decided to deliver a priggish little anti-smoking homily, along with the dismal verdict.
I guess the fellow felt morally entitled to righteously rub the dose in. To which performance, Obie, as he told it, responded: “Stop right there. You’ve delivered the prognosis. You’ve done your duty. You can go, and save the preaching for someone else.” [I think upon reflection, that what Obie actually told me was that he got peeved enough with the doctor in his own hospital to use the words “you’re dismissed” with him . “I told him, ‘You’re dismissed” ‘ .]
At which point, he said, the medical commissar rose in a huff and walked out of the room, never to reappear as one of his attending again.
Obie then, after thinking it over for a bit, decided to forgo any surgical or radiation treatment, in favor of a few palliative measures.
He told me that his age peers among the doctors, informed him after the fact, that that is just what they would have done under the same circumstances. This palliative treatment eventually included the regular draining of fluid build-ups around his lungs. It was a procedure wherein he as patient granted supervised medical trainees permission to work on him as a means of assisting them in the development of their medical skills. No record exists of what if anything the young medical prig made of this gesture.
He had, as I recall, about seven to ten good months during which he still visited the office, several more of moderate well-being wherein several of us were still able to get together for dinner out, and a couple of more or less house-bound ones that occurred during the course of the year end holidays. After which he passed. I hadn’t seen him since sometime before Thanksgiving, I think.
Obie left behind a well provided for wife, three adult and married daughters, two adult and married sons, some grandchildren, and an enviable record as a citizen and a man.
He represents the kind of men of character America used to produce in abundance. It is for the lack of such men in politics, that this nation and culture suffers as it does today.
[Update: Since yesterday and since reentering virtually the same offices and environment in which some of these conversations took place, I’ve been able to recall more exactly the words and phrasings used in some instances, and have redone them to better, though not perfectly, reflect the actual words used in conversation. I may not be a writer, but I can strive for improved accuracy at least. Also, as usual, I have noticed that I put up what was no better than a draft. Made a couple of changes here and there even adding one telling incident, but I think I’ll, again, leave it at that.]