Magdala – A Novel | The untold story of the Magdala Nunayya copper scrolls discovered near El-Mejdel on the Sea of Galilee in 1949.

Bad Weather

It is amazing how much one will endure and how much one will ignore for the sake of friends, no matter how disfunctional the relationship! (To be continued.)

Demons, Dogs and Dirty Dancers

I have tried to paint an accurate picture of the predicament my dad was in after he had been at Higgins Industries for a couple months.  Remember, the whole country was gearing up for war and nobody knew that fact better than someone in the military and my dad had volunteered.  He was “gung-ho” to do his patriotic duty – “God and Country” and all that…but both of them, God and country were taking a back seat to the misery of enduring the military minutia of a green sailor’s duties who is fresh out of boot camp.

My dad did give me some of his ideas as to why things were the way they were in the shipyard.  He noted the “get the job done no matter what” attitude of everybody in authority – civilian and military.  In fact, he said, you could hardly tell the civilian foremen and supervisors from the officers and the chiefs – they all wore khakis and black boon dockers (even Edward) and they all were completely absorbed by their various responsibilities; and they all treated anyone not dressed in khakis with detachment; any incompetence or mistake or distraction on the part of the enlisted guys was treated with disdain, at best, and with vicious hostility at times.  My dad began to get the idea that he need not go to Japan to find an enemy – he was in a war zone on the outskirts of New Orleans!

This created a striking “us and them” attitude among the enlisted petty officers who, ironically, treated the young recruits with the same detachment and disdain.  And the recruits and non-rated sailors had a monumental “us and them” attitude toward them all with the added frustration of not having anybody to take it out on below them in rank…so they just fought and competed with each other!  The system fed on itself!  The very process molded you into a disfunctional, domineering, arrogant shell of a leader.  This hierarchical, systematic domination was a war in this sense:  it was a nightmare from which you could not waken yourself.  And it was not like a war in this sense:  everyone under someone else’s thumb was scrapping and fighting to join the ranks of the enemy, the next rung on the ladder of advancement in rank.

This whole process was so obvious to my dad that he would obsessively philosophize about it to himself when he had a boring job to do (which was most of the time).  This was one of his observations:  the officers and chiefs were like demons – their knowledge and skills at working the system were mystical and their power to make you miserable almost unlimited.  The enlisted petty officers were like dogs – they cow-towed to their masters but barked and snarled and bit everybody else, and they did it in packs.  And your equals in the ranks were like dirty dancers:  any appeal to you or friendliness they showed was just that, a show; if you got too close, they’d slap you and laugh.

Maybe you can begin to see that it was a huge thing that my dad found the simblance of truthful friendship with the two Bobs.  Their commradery was very important to my dad.  He overlooked a lot, blinded by his dependance on them for affirmation and self-confidence.

Edward Tries to Help

Of course Edward knew that my dad was struggling and apparently faltering in his Christian ideals.  Eventually, everybody in the barracks/warehouse knew how my dad got the assignment to the boat works.  The Lieutenant and the Chief Petty Officer of the station both resented my dad’s preferential treatment by the Navy Department and saw the whole thing simply as a way to placate Edward in light of the value he represented to the development of Patrol Torpedo Boats.

At any length, the crew kept Edward up to date on anything my dad did “wrong.”  In response, when he had a moment, like in the mess hall or when he saw my dad in passing, Edward would try to say something to encourage him.  My dad said, as irrational as it sounds, that the more Edward tried to be a friend, the worse my dad’s bitterness and resentment became.  Nothing put a dint in the darkness my dad enbraced.

Those That Refuse To See

So, now you have it…how my dad survived the dulldrums of insignificance and the abyss of no hope: he started hanging around places that he had no experience or training to prepare him for.  Boot camp had classes warning you of veneral diseases, deadly electricty, sneaky paint fumes, and insubordination.   Boot camp meticulously covered every aspect of First Aid with graphic visuals.  Boot camp taught you how to handle and shoot a gun.  Boot camp trained you how to put out fires and make your way through a smoke-filled compartment on a ship.  Boot camp drilled you on marching commands, eating fast, making beds, folding clothes, packing dufflebags, and surviving with little sleep.  But boot camp said not a word about how to pick your friends or what to do about depression. 

To be continued.

Into the Fog

My Dad was trapped. You can look at him from the outside and give him advice about it, but from his point of view, the emotions, the personalities, the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies, and the insanities around him screamed way too loud for him to hear you. And the darkness was not sugar coated:  he told me that it was during this time that curious thoughts of “ending it all” began to interest him.  At this point, these imaginations were not about that hysterical scream in the mind to jump off a cliff that we associate with suicide.  No, just an unattached inquisitiveness about the idea.  Though he felt hopeless in his circumstances, he was not making a connection between the hopelessness and the notions about dying an early, unnatural, self-inflicted death.

What he did do, though, was compensate for his insignificance as the junior enlisted man in the barracks by making friends with a couple of the civilian workers at the shipyard who felt cheated just like him. My dad’s pay was not as good as theirs, but his uniform brought the kind of attention from the ladies that they craved.  The two he hung around with lived in a tiny travel trailer in a small unused parking lot in the shipyard.  Both of them had “Robert” for their first name.  For the free “housing” provided by the shipyard, they worked extra hours cleaning the offices and cutting grass (with a sythe, a sickle and a sling).

My dad had found an anecdote to the blues!  The “jolly band of boat builders” (“J-BOBBS”, as they called themselves – this also played off the first letter of my dad’s first name, Jerry, and the young workers’ first names, Bob) would strike out for downtown as soon as my dad got the kitchen cleaned up after supper.  Of course, they could not go every night because none of them could afford it.  But they tried to make it every Saturday night, the day after Sabboth.   Somehow, as hard as he tried to impress his friends, he never got tangled up with a girl.  Well, at least one that he picked out.  His buddies would push “ladies of the night” on him, but my dad (unlike his buddies) had no interest in carrying that sort of thing with that sort of woman to its assumed conclusion.  Dad had a bad case of looking for love in all the wrong places!  He did not know how to look any other way.  His “friends” were the most valuable people in the world to him at that time, and he accepted the world they groveled in as his own.  He really did want to find the love of his life, but, more than once he emptied his pockets in a painted lady’s lap, asked her to forgive him and got up and walked out.  Irony was, my dad was the only one of the three that got pubic lice.  He had no idea how he got them, but he did.  The other two laughed their heads off.  They would not let him forget it.  I should note that much later in life, my dad would still call somebody a “J-Bobb” if they were given to chasing girls.

More than once, late at night, Dad walked the long, winding road back to the shipyard by himself.  The darkness that shrouded his mind with depression and “that trapped feeling” would overwhelm him in these lonely hikes.  His sullen demeanor would scare the other sailors.  Who knows how much his gloominess contributed to perpetuating his lowly status in the naval detachment.  None of the other sailors liked him and none of them pushed to get him assigned to their boat for more exciting duty.

But the J-BOBBS found importance in their relationships.  A kind of self-importance, really.  The smelly bars they frequented; the “short-cuts” they found down to the French Quater; the “ladies” that knew the secret name of this jolly band (and when they got paid):  all of this was a kind of secret knowledge to the three friends.  It was like, nobody else in the whole world knew where their bars were, their shortcuts were, their ladies were…when, in reality, they were surrounded with folks who knew all these things…it was just that none of this was as important to anybody else as it was to them.  These three lived in a little manufactured adventureland.  Torment, drudgery, boredom, and insignificance six and a half days a week – adventure one night a week.

I should mention that by now my dad had marginalized the input he got from the local Rabbi that the Jewish chaplain at Great Lakes had refered him to (there wasn’t a Jewish Navy chaplain in New Orleans).  The Rabbi (my dad didn’t even remember his name) seemed to have more questions about where the action was downtown than he had advice about how to stay out of trouble!  There was a reason for this, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.  Not to worry, we’ll come back to this.

The Fall of Babylon (cont. – 2)

As you sit there politely hiding behind your computer’s monitor it might be easy for you to cluck your cheeks and ask my dad, “What’s the big deal? Get a life!” But, let me remind you that my dad was just 18 years old. He had led a protected life. He had a life already, a good life, and that life did not, by its own nature, prepare him for the accelerated exposure to forces controling him that did not have his best interests at heart that he collided with in the military. I don’t mean my grandparents had tried to shelter him to the point of masquerading a farse for real life. It is just that he had never been exposed to, never even thought of, the things that seven year olds take for granted now. Oh, the basics were there, but the graphics were not. Take violence for example: the closest he had ever been to blood and guts was a bully’s bloody nose on the school playground (my dad could not stand by and watch injustice – it was the only trouble he ever got into when he stood the school tough-guy down for picking on younger children). My dad had never seen a movie that showed blood on an actor’s shirt from a gunshot wound! Imagine! My dad had never seen dead bodies strewn in an open mass grave on the evening news. He had never even seen a TV! My dad had heard a lot of swearing from the sailors he was around, but, for many of them he still did not know what they meant beyond general terms…and his curiosity to find out what they meant in particular was not as strong as the pull by his moral compass to leave it alone. This is true. He often spoke to me of the tragedy of how fast I had grown up. He valued highly the shelter of his early years.

The irony is that the way things happened, my dad’s “sheltered life” worked against him in his circumstances, though it would have been of great value if the normal course of life in Key West had been able to be played out. The sheltered life works best when the timing is right: if you are exposed to “heavy” things too soon they crush you. My dad was not ready intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually, for World War II. He was not prepared for the arbitrariness of the military’s way of doing business – the “big picture” of overcoming the evil of tyranny and oppression by fighting for right and justice was easy to understand – how this moral justification for war translated into endless menial tasks at the behest of crass, hostile petty officers just did not translate for my dad and he had no one to appeal to, especially not Edward.

As far as my dad was concerned, his bond of friendship and mutual respect between him and Edward was broken. Edward had betrayed him. Edward had pulled strings to get him assigned to Higgins Industries and then abandoned him to the whims of bullys and prima donnas. That was not what Edward did, but that was how my dad felt. The problem was, Edward accepted the machinery of military discipline and order, my dad just was not processing “the system” in any positive light at all. As far as my dad was concerned, at 18 years old, life was a hopeless, endless downward spiral into the jaws of an unknown, ravenous beast.

The Fall of Babylon (cont.)

I don’t know how far to get into this part of the story. This time in my dad’s life was difficult. It was a long, hard trial…and he failed. The air around him was laden with the noxious fumes of godlessness. The light around him cast long, dark shadows. The sky above was always overcast, the clouds were non-discript and gray. The path was strewn with boulders, huge fallen trees, thick briars, venemous vipers and deep chasms on both sides. The faces of people around him were blank. Friends were strangers. Strangers were enemies. Happy people were hipocrites. Sad people were mirrors. Sober people were somber tyrants. Generous people wanted something from him that was vague and unattainable. This was the ethos of the warehouse barracks in New Orleans. My dad was detached and isolated deep inside.

Oh, everyday: he swept and mopped and waxed and buffed the tiled floors; he shined the brass doorknobs; he cleaned the ashtrays and the toilets and the sinks and the shower stalls and the doorjambs and the window ledges; he peeled the potatoes and mixed the bug-juice and fixed the coffee and fried the eggs and washed the dishes; he picked up all the cigarette butts and coke bottles on the pavement where the men played basketball…everyday…day in…day out…listening to the gutteral roar of huge engines gunned all day out on the river by men honing their skills at boating in their yachts on steroids called PT boats. At first he hid it, but eventually, everybody knew how badly my dad resented not being on those boats. It didn’t help.

To an 18 year old, six months is an eternity. That’s how long he would have to wait before the date when the Navy Department had authorized an enlargement of the detachment at the factory. My dad was sure someone would be coming in who would be “junior” to him and he would be promoted from the daily cleaning and cooking detail to a crew member on the boats.

Just to be on the boats was all my dad was living for. He stopped going to church on Sunday morning. He slept in. His prayers were all about getting on the boats. He did all his chores with everything he had in him…just to get on the boats. He was super nice to the Chief…just to get on the boats. He polished boondockers left at the end of racks…just to get on the boats. All the smiles, all the extra duty, all the “nice guy” airs…just to get on the boats.

Everybody knew of my dad’s discontent, but nobody knew the scale of the darkness and the desperation down in the dungeon of my dad’s heart. He knew the atmosphere in his soul was not “christian.” Didn’t matter…wasn’t anything he could do about it but keep up the facade and stay in the painted shell. I say nobody knew…Edward could see the darkness but he was too busy to do more than, when he sometimes saw my dad at chow, to chide him for the chip he could see growing on his shoulder.

The Fall of Babylon

My grandfather and grandmother stayed in New Orleans for three days with my dad. My dad’s commanding officer, a Lt. Brikens, or something like that, gave my dad his two weeks leave as soon as he reported in. They did a lot of sightseeing and tried the local food. It was all on Edward. He had plenty of money, or at least he had more money than he needed for himself. And you can believe my dad and his parents were not at all extravagant. Edward didn’t go with them, he was too busy with construction startup on the MTB’s.

My grandparents left to go back to Key West on a small collier that ferried coal to Key West from New Orleans – that’s how they got there, too. The captain was a friend of my grandfather’s and Edward’s – the fare was free. My dad said he fell right back into that darkness – that feeling of falling and not having control to stop it. As best I can piece the comments and the evidence together, my dad was fine on the outside, but on the inside he was scarred and lonely. When he started working at the factory, he was disillusioned by the endless mundane tasks that he had to do day in and day out. My dad was the junior man in the naval attachment of 33 sailors – four officers, four chiefs, four first class, four second class, four third class, 12 seamen and 1 seaman apprentice (my dad). They had a small warehouse that was hurriedly turned into a barracks. Higgins industry quickly threw together four prototypes of their production MTBs. The sailors were split into four crews and began immediately to test them and develop operational tactics. My dad was the only one not assigned to the crews. He did all the cleaning and swabbing and mess detail in the barracks – all day, everyday, six days a week.

My dad saw Edward occasionally, but he was usually either in the office working with the draftsmen and engineers, on the building ways working with the construction crews or out on the boats with the sailors for performance trials. When Edward wasn’t working he was lodging with Mr. Higgins at his estate just outside of town. The Navy had given Edward a commission as Leutenent Junior Grade and his path just didn’t cross with my dad’s very often. They were both within a few hundred yards of each other all the time, but they rarely saw each other for any length of time. Even on Sundays Edward worked and my dad was too exhausted to do anything but sleep or wonder around town.

During this time, my dad was almost robbed once at knife point and got in fights with locals for no good reason twice. For a while he stayed in the barracks except when he had to make commisary runs for the crews mess. The other sailors were no help when they were there. Not one really befriended my dad. Most of the enlisted men were either in a clique or competing to get in one. The pecking order was rigidly maintained with the heartless trichotemy of irrelevant, arbitrary rank, personal belittlement of others, and childish one-up-manship. Everything was competitive.

The Tower of Babylon (cont.)

When my dad got his orders after bootcamp, he was shocked to find they had not given him the normal two weeks leave. He was to report straight to New Orleans for assignment to a Navy attachment at Higgins Industies. My dad spoke of deep, deep sadness and loneliness and homesickness on that train ride to his first duty station. He had really been counting on a visit to see his parents and Edward in Key West. And the frustration that hung on to him after the tongue lashing by the Chief at the graduation ceremony at boot camp had not dissipated…no, rather, it had mushroomed into anger and then depression; depression fueled by the injustice of being denied leave with no explanation or warning. The “fly in the ointment” had ruined more than the ointment. My dad talked of a darkness that had come over him as he sat for hours on the train, surrounded by people but totally alone, staring out into the countryside day and night with an unfocused gaze, numb to everything but the torturous, jostling rhythm of the tracks. From my dad’s comments, this is what I picture his state of mind to be on his way to New Orleans.

Well, when he got to New Orleans, what a surprise! His Mom and Dad and Edward met him at the train station! Because of his knowledge of small boats and that fact that he knew Andrew Jackson Higgins (the owner of the company) from many years before, Edward was recruited as a consultant to the construction process of MTB’s for the U. S. Navy. I think MTB stands for “Motorized Torpedo Boat,” also known as PT boats (Patrol Torpedo). As you might remember, the CO of the PT boat that had done the trial run to Key West had become friends with Edward and my dad. He had really been impressed with Edward’s knowledge of small boats and had talked about him to Mr. Higgins. When he heard of this small boat whiz in Key West, Mr. Higgins added two and two and sent a letter to Edward to confirm they had known each other. He immediately requested the Navy Department to reinstate Edward to active duty and send him to New Orleans. Old as Edward was, the Navy obliged Mr. Higgins and the old salt was serving his country again.

Edward had suggested my dad as a candidate for assignment to the Naval attachment at Higgins Industries because of my dad’s experience with handling and maintaining small boats. Mr. Higgins again wrote a letter to some acquaintance at the Navy Dept. and thus my dad is sent to New Orleans. By the time the yoeman’s office at Great Lakes got the word on the change in my dad’s orders, they barely had them typed up in time for the graduation ceremony to end, much less give my dad any warning. It was a high priority to get these PT boats tested and in service because they took next to no time to build compared to the huge battle ships that needed to be replaced from the attack at Pearl Harbor. Everybody was in the panic mode to compensate ASAP for those loses and PT boats represented a possible short term fix if the Japs continued to press their attacks on our home shores. Those days were really a scarry time for the Navy brass who were in the know and in charge.

At any length, you can imagine the sheer joy that flooded my dad’s heart when he saw his parents on the platform at the train station. Sheer joy might be a little misleading – I mean he was glad to see them with a rush of glee at first, but what almost immediately throttled his joyful emotions was more like shock. It was hard for my dad to accomodate these radical changes and fluctuations and “u-turns” imposed on him in such a short amount of time. He felt out of control…he was, really and truly, out of control and this degree of the unknown pressed on him by such powerful circumstances was choking the warmth out of his sense of religious well-being. This might not mean much to you, but my dad had lived a sheltered life and being a “Christian” was easy, being surrounded with loving, godly parents, a kind, wise pastor, a church full of wholesome, down-to-earth, hard working fellow pilgrims, and Edward. When we talked about it later, my dad, looking back on his first few weeks at Higgins Industries, commented that no one knew how close to the edge of blowing up he was.

Enter: a young, confused, searching sailor’s life in New Orleans……Americans punch-drunk on the disasterous news from overseas…….revenge, rage and testosterone charged the social mood of the whole country.

The Tower of Babylon.

What I am trying to do is give you the picture I have of my dad when he first joined the Navy. He had a real sense of dedication to his Christian heritage and to the values he was brought up with in the home, in his Sunday School class and in the community as a whole in Key West. He sincerely wanted to do the right thing…all the time. He really did keep all the rules. Dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s.” He brushed his teeth religiously because it was the right thing to do. He followed all the rules at school because it was the right thing to do. He obeyed the laws of the road as he learned to drive because that is the way you stay in the right, that is the way you act if you are a good person, a moral man, a solid Christian. It wasn’t hard, exactly, for my dad…it came by nature and by nurture in his life. He had a quiet, calm character and wise, consistent, religious upbringing. He was taught to work hard and be content with what you get for it. He was taught to accept the sovereignty of God, meaning, God sets the rules and it is our responsibility to keep them.

In short, my dad up to this point had been a model young man. He talked of some of the mothers in Key West who chided their boys for not being like him.

Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Flies in the Ointment (cont. – 5)

Besides those things already noted, I will wrap up the stories my dad told me about boot camp with this one. This is the other “fly in the ointment” at bootcamp.

On the day of graduation from basic training, several of the recruits had their parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and girlfriends there. Two had their wives there. It had not taken the boots long to ascribe to my dad the reputation of sticking to the rules — religiously. And he always stuck up for the smaller guys when the bigger fellas naturally picked on them. Well, wouldn’t you know it: one of the louder sailors in my dad’s company made a sexual slurr about the wife of one the grads. Her husband was the smallest recruit in their whole graduating class (but of another company) and my dad said you could hear the comment all over the gym where the ceremony was held. Everybody got real quiet. The company commanders, the Senior Chief, and the Officer of the graduating class all froze. My dad had not seen any of them speechless before…they just seemed not to know what to say. Well, my dad knew what to say: “Shame on you. That’s no way to talk to any lady, much less your shipmate’s wife. You wouldn’t want anybody talking about your wife that way. Take it back. Take it back. Right now!” (I don’t remember exactly what my dad told me he said, but I don’t think it’s too important, because I got the impression he didn’t remember exactly, word for word, what he had said, himself.)

The nasty mouthed boot-grad was too drunk on the festivities of freedom from recruit training to back down one bit. My dad figured he didn’t think anyone else had heard him, but it was blatently obvious that just about all there heard him loud and clear. And they all heard what my dad had said too.

After what seemed like a long time, the Senior Chief jumped into the crowd shuffling toward the doors, commandingly excused his way through the recruits and their families in a very take-charge, “I’m in control” way, and positioned himself between the foul-mouthed sailor and my dad, looked at both of them and boomed, “You two come with me!”

He took them into an office off the gym floor and told my dad to sit down. The Chief (who is like the most exalted human any recruit had ever seen) turned to the gutterminded sailor and told him he doesn’t realize how far his voice travels and he better get a lid on it before he goes to his duty station or he will face a lot of trouble. Then he dismissed him, much to the amazement of my dad. Alone with my dad, the Chief unloads on him a lecture on being “holier than thou” and trying to be everybody else’s conscience. He told my dad he was going to put a note in his service record about it (which he didn’t) and dismissed my dad.

My dad was struck down with a deep sense of the injustice of that experience. And he harbored a huge need to vindicate himself with somebody.

With this depressing cloud hanging over his head, my dad went directly to the yoeman’s office to get his leave papers and his orders for his first duty station. He was late so he was at the back of a long line. The longer he waited the madder he got. The madder he got the more frustrated he got with himself for getting mad. There was nothing he could do. There was to be no satisfaction to his youthful zeal for being right in everybody’s eyes; especially the Senior Chief.

Flies In the Ointment (cont. – 4)

Once the new recruits were settled in and divided up among the various companies, the chaos of the bus ride faded into the routine and rigors of boot life at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. One of the boys on the bus who heard my dad pray for Emmett kept asking my dad why he prayed in the name of “Jesus” if he was a Jew. My dad told him that Jesus was a great Jew, but that never satisfied the fella. Going through the Christimas holidays didn’t help either: my grandmother send my dad a big Christmas package with all the symbols and trimmings of a Christian Christmas. Everybody got into it, though mostly just harmless humor and curiosity. My dad often wondered if the Rabbi Chaplain ever heard any of this, because he never let on if he did. There were only 18 Jewish recruits on base at the time and my dad assumed the Chaplian was happy to have all of them, imposters or not.

Copyright, 2009, G. Thomas Johnson, Norfolk, VA. All rights reserved.

Flies In the Ointment (cont. – 3)

Once everyone got out of the overturned bus, the raw realities began to sink in. The Petty Officer and the bus driver were not able to function. The bus driver was complaining about his neck. They just laid in the ice with glazed eyes, moaning every now and then. My dad told me somebody figured out that the two sailors had smashed their heads together. Emmitt was extremely cold and the guys figured he was going into shock from loss of blood. There was nothing but closed warehouses as far as their eyes could see in every direction. Not a soul, not a car, not a truck, not a policeman was in sight. The damp cold was beginning to permeate their clothes. The recruits with civilian clothes were particularly ill dressed for these conditions. Everybody in uniform had warm peacoats. But no matter how they were dressed, icy rain and sleet pelted their hands and faces driven by the howling wind like a wet sandblast.

By now, everybody seemed to gravitate to the lead of the noisy recruit that had told the boys who had stayed behind helping the injured to hurry up and get out. As you remember, he was also the one who had been disrespectful toward my dad’s praying. He hollered for everybody to huddle together to conserve their body heat. As everyone obliged him and crowded around the injured, he announced that he had a plan. His idea was for someone to go to one of the warehouse offices and break in and use the phone to call for help. This sparked a lively round of debate as to which office looked easiest to get in and which ones looked for sure to have a phone. The conclusion of the heated discussion was that nobody volunteered; even the two who seemed to know him balked: they called him “Decker.” He didn’t volunteer to do any “breaking and entering” either.

My dad suggested that two of them run back on the route they had come until they got to the residential section they had passed. It couldn’t have been more than a mile. And someone was sure to be up, it was only 9 o’clock. The leader scoffed at the notion because he said none of them knew the way. My dad told him he figured he could find it since he had been so intently watching out the window the whole time. Another fella said he’d go with my dad and the whole group chimed in with their approval. The “leader” seemed a bit tiffed about it but, after looking around for a moment, said, “Go, then!”

As my dad and his new companion jogged out into the storm there was a sudden, loud “whoosh” behind them. It was not an explosion but, when they stopped and look back, they could tell that the gas had finally ignited and the bus was beginning to burn. Bright, flickering, yellow and red light illuminated the huddled recruits. My dad remembered thinking, “They’ll be warm now!” The two rescuers turned and ran harder into the teeth of the storm, slipping and sliding on the ice in their street shoes.

They had gone about ten blocks when they heard a siren. Moving slow and deliberate, a red firetruck appeared out of the frozen wash ahead of them and ground its way past them. A second firetruck came up and stopped on the street before them and just sat there idling. There wasn’t a fireman in sight like you would usually see hanging on the back or perched behind the cab. My dad and the other volunteer walked over to the driver’s side door. The whole truck was glistening with a sheet of ice a half inch think. They could hear muffled shouting from inside the cab. It looked like a half dozen guys were crammed in the cab. The driver was pounding his weight against the door but it was frozen shut. They couldn’t get out! This struck the two recruits funny and they started laughing out loud.

An ambulance scratched its way by the frozen fire truck, running up on the curb and knocking over a trash can. The sight of the emergency vehicle shook my dad back to reality. He climbed up to the window of the driver’s door to hear what the driver was trying to tell them. Finally, he made it out: “Are you two with the Navy bus?”

“Yea!” my dad hollered back.

“Climb on back and hang on.” the fireman instructed.

The two recruits did climb on back and held on for a block or two, but the cold steel and the additional breeze of the ride made it impossible to hold on. Both dropped off and watched the firetruck crunch along ahead of them. The ambulance came back passing them going the other way. Another firetruck came by, but it didn’t stop, heading for the burning bus.

By the time the two frozen young recruits had trudged their way back to the overturned bus, the fire was out. The firemen had given some of them blankets. Emmett, the bus driver and the Petty Officer were gone in the ambulance.

A giant towtruck came and pulled the bus out of the middle of the street and pushed it over back onto its wheels, which were only charred rubber in the back. After a while, maybe an hour or so, another bus came with another barking Petty Officer. They had been out in the freezing sleet and rain for almost two hours. By a miracle, nobody seemed overwhelmed by the cold. Their spirits were up and the boys filed onto the bus bristling with sarcastic humor and exclaimations of relief. The barking jokes and cynical quips persisted all the way to the base…fed by the fact that the heater didn’t work on the bus! My dad quietly took it all in. He missed Emmett.

Copyright, 2009, G. Thomas Johnson, Norfolk, VA. All rights reserved.

Flies In the Ointment (cont. – 2)

None of the buses ahead of my dad’s bus knew anything about their falling over in the trench in the middle of the street. They just kept trudging along in the nasty weather to the Recruit Training Center, nobody ever considered looking back.

At first, most of the guys on the toppled bus thought all this was a blast. Some were laughing hysterically, especially those hanging on the opposite side from the fall. They could see what was going to happen if enough of them went to the driver’s side. Some tried to hold on, but the tilt was just too much for them. As I said, eventually, over the span of about 10 seconds, they all gave out and that was that. When the bus did come to rest on its side, just about all of the boots were piled on top of each other like cordwood. The ones on the bottom were getting crushed.

Emmett had his forehead pushed hard on the shattered window that he had been looking out of. It was safety glass, but the impact still crushed it into a thousand sections of sharp edges. The scar on his brow broke open, and the gash was deep!

My dad couldn’t see anything at first: there was a foot, an elbow and another face smashing into his. His arms were locked under his chest. The men strained to upright themselves and stand on the side of the bus. It seemed to take forever. Finally, when my dad did get a glance over to where Emmett had been, all he saw was a bloody mass. One of the sailors on top of Emmett must have seen the injury about the same time and started shouting, “Get off! Get off! This guy’s hurt bad!”

Emmett rolled his head toward my dad. Blood was flowing freely. His eyes were staring out into space, like he couldn’t see. The motor was still running…sputtering and spitting fumes and smoke, but running. In the chaos, my dad remembered hearing one of the guys up front holler out that the front door was jammed and the driver and the bus boss were dead. Another fellow up front looked more closely and said they were not dead, just knocked out. Somebody else hollered that they better get them out of the bus, it could explode. The minute or so it took for everyone to get up seemed to last a long, long time. The back door of the bus was kicked open with much effort because of the ice, and bodies were starting to roll out into the surreal frozen wasteland of a Chicago industrial suburb in an ice storm.

Finally, my dad got to his friend. He ripped the lining out of his coat and pressed it hard against Emmett’s forehead. Emmett winced in pain and cried out, “My nose!” His nose was broke too. His top lip was cut pretty bad and he had lost another front tooth, it was sticking out through the skin under his swelling nose. Then my dad did something he had never done before…he prayed out loud for Emmett. There were a dozen or so boots still trying to muscle the unconscious chaperones out of the bus. One of them said, “Shhhhhhh!” They got still and quiet as my dad prayed…all but one of them: he kept straining to drag the Petty Officer toward the back door, ignoring the prayers, making no effort to be quiet.

When he told me about all this, my dad did not remember what he said in the prayer; except he did remember saying, “…in the name of Jesus, Amen.”

One of the guys asked, “You a preacher?”

“No. I just don’t know what else to do.” my dad replied.

The same guy said, “Well, here, pray for these two, too. They both really took a hit in the head.”

My dad took the idea seriously and bowed his head and prayed for each of them. He stood over the bus driver as he prayed, but only looked toward the Petty Officer as the noisy guy struggled to get him through the opening in the back of the bus. A dark shadow stuck his head in the back door and called out, “What’s going on in there?”

The irreverant recruit said, sarcastically, “These guys are having church in here!”

Someone else outside called, “Church?! Church?! We’re gonna have the devil to pay if that gas gets on the tailpipe! Can’t ya smell the fumes?!!

The noisy recruit yelled: “Get outta here! Get out, everybody!” A second or two later my dad heard the same fella holler out with gritted teeth, “Put that cigarette out, you idiot!

The gravity of the situation finally sunk in and the group trying to move the hurt out of the bus began to work feverishly. Eventually, everybody did get out. The driver and the Petty Officer came around and Emmett’s bleeding slowed. When they took stock of where they were, there wasn’t a house in sight. Just warehouses. No phone booths. Not a soul knew they were there. Not a soul was coming to help. And it was CCCCOOOOOLLLLDDDD.

Copyright, 2009, G. Thomas Johnson, Norfolk, Va. All rights reserved.

Flies In the Ointment (cont.)

Despite the brazen, bullyish attitude of the bus bosses (the Petty Officers) the recruits were very rowdy. Sarcasm shot from one end of the bus to the other – the cynicism was palatable. “Hey, we gonna stop at the Hyde Park Depot so we can use these meal tickets?” “I thought, if we put a uniform on they had to feed us!” Did ya’ll let all the air out of the tires when you put the chains on? This thing rides like my dad’s mule cart!” “Chains? They shoulda put ice skates on this beast!” And on and on it went. After a while you couldn’t help but start laughing.

As they made their way out of the center of the city, the streets got more and more deserted. Dad and Emmett, about mid-way of the bus on the driver’s side, were glued to the window taking in the big city as best they could through the rain and sleet. They tried to open it, but the sliding section of the window was frozen shut. As the traffic thinned, the lead bus picked up speed and the rest followed suit. Someone questioned the wisdom of trying to transport so many men, all packed like sardines in these standing-room-only crates, in such bad driving conditions. The Petty Officer on my dad’s bus seemed deaf to all of this as he stood down in the step-well at the front door intently watching the five buses ahead clatter and scratch their way through the icy streets.

Nobody had any warning at all of what happened next. There was a section of street under repair with a drop-off of about a foot running right down the middle. The smudge pots set to warn traffic had gone out and the danger signs were blown over. The five buses ahead just missed the ledge, evidently. The driver of my dad’s bus tracked just a little closer to the center of the street and went off the pavement into the depression. The bus tettered on that side for a few seconds, but, like classic Woody Woodpecker cartoon suspense, the weight of all the young men, some first thrown and then others slipping and sliding one by one that way against the windows, tipped the balance and the bus flopped on its side – the side my dad and Emmett were on.

To be continued.

Copyright 2009, Norfolk, VA, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Flies In the Ointment

As I mentioned, my dad was very open about his experience in bootcamp. Anytime, after he began talking about his military years, when someone brought up the subject of recruit training, he would use glowing terms to express the organic camaraderie among the boots in his company. I don’t remember him saying anything about whether all the other companies who competed with his had the same experience. I just know that the deep, unique union that they all felt and that made them much bigger than the sum of their individual potentals left an indelible impression on him.

Knowing this fact will help you understand what makes the story I must tell you now so very painful for my dad at the time. On one occassion, when we were discussing the possibilities of this book (my dad always encouraged me to do my fighting by writing) he told me about Emmett. (I assume this to be his last name, but I don’t remember being told one way or another.) They met at the train station in Chicago, the Union Station. My dad had never seen a building like this before in his life. It was real early in the morning. He sat in the huge hall on a wooden-slat bench looking up at the distant rafters and steel girders with his mouth open in unbelief. Emmett asked him a question and the conversation went something like this: “Where ya from?”

Dad hadn’t noticed that anyone was sitting beside him. His head swung around and, he told me, he instantly knew he and this guy would hit it off: there was no hostility or defence in his voice or on his face. “Key West,” my dad said. Without staring, my dad noticed a huge, deep scar just below the hairline on Emmett’s forehead. It was reddish pink, a recent wound, crescent-shaped turned up, about four inches long and a half-inch wide in the middle tappering off to a point on both ends. Emmett was tall and muscluar. He spoke like a mild-mannered, western sheriff in the movies and wore a big cowboy’s hat.

“Key West? Where’s that? Emmett asked.

“Florida. On the tip. In the Gulf of Mexico.”

“It must be small. Never heard of it!”

The Gulf of Mexico, Florida or Key West?

Emmett grinned, unashamedly showing a top front tooth missing. “Key West!”

“It is small,” my dad explained, “but the Navy is adding subs, seaplanes and PT boats. And the island is going to get crowded.”

“Island? An island with subs, seaplanes and…what’s a PT boat?” Emmett asked.

“I’m not supposed to know about all this and I don’t think I’m supposed to be talking about it.” my dad said with a genuine worry. This was all common knowledge to the captian and crew of Edward’s liberty boat. All the sailors portaged by Edward, enlisted and officers alike, just took my dad as one of them. They talked freely among themselves. And there had been a buzz of a buildup of naval and army forces in Key West for some weeks prior to Dec. 7th.

The PT boats were the thing that intrigued Dad. One had come to Key West on a trial run fron New Orleans a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. It looked and sounded really powerful and bristled with weapons. The captain of the PT boat knew Edward and came to church with him once. My dad got to talk with him and they really hit it off. The captain’s nickname was “Dragger” – he loved running his shrimp boat out of New Orleans when he was off duty. All the “boat” captians used nicknames. My dad never knew his real name.

Dad and Emmett talked about boats and the sea and horses and home for some time. In the course of the conversation it came out that Emmett was from California. He had seen Holywood. The scar was from a horse he was trying to shoe on his family’s ranch. His dad had given him the hat when he turned 18 on December 7th. My dad couldn’t help asking if he had seen John Wayne, or if he was kin to him: he looked just like him. Emmett had only seen the “Duke” in movies and he wasn’t kin to him.

There were recruits milling all over the train station. Everybody’s orders said they should muster by 0900 hours at the Navy Reception Desk in the center of the station where they would be met by Naval personel who would transport them at 0930 hours by bus to the training center. My dad’s train had arrived at 5:15 in the morning before breakfast was served on the coach. Very few of the recruits had any cash; they had been told not to bring any money or luggage. Most of the recruits wore Navy “blues” but a few wore “civies” because their recruiting center had run out of uniforms. Dad and Emmett both were wearing civies. They appreciated having a buddy to navigate this unknown world with – two heads are better than one – so they stuck together as the plot thickened for the poor hungry youth….neither could remember ever not having breakfast.

There was no “Navy Reception Desk” at Union Station. Ticket agents, police, baggage boys, the few uniformed sailors they saw, and hurried civilian travelers…all were asked and all told the sailors-to-be the same thing: they knew nothing about it. The police and the sailors did reassure them that the Navy would take care of them, just stand by and wait. This was the first lesson for the boots in the notorious unwritten standing order of the U. S. N.: “Hurry up and wait!”

0930 hours came and went and no NavTraStaGLak (Naval lingo for Naval Training Station, Great Lakes) personnel showed up. What happened was, the six 3rd Class Petty Officers sent in charge of the six green buses and their six bootcamp grad drivers went to the usual Naval Recruit Reception Depot in Hyde Park. Several recruits had been beaten and robbed of their empty wallets right outside the Hyde Park train station. So, as of the 21st of December, the day my dad transfered trains in New Orleans, “they” changed all the tickets from the Hyde Park terminal to trains going to Union Station. “They” just forgot to tell the bus detail and the civil service clerks at the Naval Reception Desk. It took the six Petty Officers until noon to find out where they were supposed to be. The weather was really bad and phone service from outside the city was messed up. The storm also made the roads slick with ice and the bus detail guys had to figure out how to attach the traction chains to the bus wheels. This took two and a half hours. By then the traffic in the city was a snarl and it took the caravan 3 hours to get from Hyde Park Station to Union Station. It was almost 1800 hours (6PM) before the bus detail and the 213 recruits made contact.

Dad and Emmett had not eaten since supper on the train the night before. They were relieved by the prospects of being on their way to Great Lakes, Illinois – food!

It took the six 3rd Class Petty Officers another two hours to round everybody up, brashly assert their superiority over the boots, verify their orders, issue them meal tickets for the restuarant at the Hyde Park Terminal, confiscate all knives, one gun, and all luggage, and assign each person to a square (the buses had no seats, just numbered black and white squares, 18″X18″). Given the indifferent, arbitrary, bully attitude of the barking petty officers, Dad and Emmett held their breath until they knew they were on the same bus with adjacent block numbers. They could tell if they said anything about their friendship to the bus bosses it would mean instant denigration and separation.

When the buses, throwing sparks with their clattering chains, finally ejected from the depot some time after 2000 hours, the young travelers were stunned by what they saw! Dad had never seen anything like it…everything covered with a sheet of ice a half inch thick. Trees, light poles, sidewalks, streets, buildings, cars, buses, every surface exposed to the weather was iced over. The coldest my dad had ever seen it was 45 degrees! He was shocked to his bones by the stark harshness and hostility of the cold. How could it be so cold that the rain froze on contact with everything? Why wasn’t the rain frozen before it hit?

To be continued….

Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Boot Friends for Life

So, that’s how my dad got from being a “Conch” in Key West, Florida to a Jewish boot at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois.

Bootcamp was a blast for my dad. Of all his military experiences, he talked more in detail about bootcamp than anything else. I was blown away by how many names he remembered 50 years later when he finally started opening up and talking to me about his mysterious military years. There was Decker, Abellamonte, Smitty, Critten, Geronimo, Tallop, Emmett, Fuentez, and Bjorklund, to name the ones I remember.

Now, don’t get me wrong, 9 weeks in bootcamp in December 1942 was no picnic and he did not make light of that part of it at all. His parents were very straight-forward and sincere in their discipline in the home, but their loving and understanding ways of guiding and correcting were no preparation for the unbending rules and rigors of naval training. Dad said he could tell from the age on the rifles he drilled with and the shipboard equipment he trained on that things had not changed for many years in that department. But he was careful to point out that bootcamp was not there just to bring you up to date on the latest gadgets in the fleet……the important lessons were the intangibles of teamwork, following directions explicitly and without question, respecting authority, watching out for your shipmates, learning to like navy chow, and functioning on the job without proper sleep.

There was one overarching lesson in bootcamp dad was especially struck by: how important your individual performance was to the success and well-being of the company as a whole. Each seaman had a cruicial responsibility to carry his weight no matter how meniel his job or how low his rank. It was more than teamwork, more than a strong sense of community, more than just caring about your shipmates… was these things, but more. It was organic. There was a life in your company that did not exist outside of it. And that life was bigger, way bigger than anything any one of the men could even think about, much less, actualy achieve. Not even close. My dad said after a few days of drilling and marching and double-timing from one cram class to another everybody begin to click into place. The friendship was actually stronger than any kinship that most of the guys in the company had ever known. These young, bold, anxious, arrogant men were life to one another and they began to get the picture as they all failed on the shortcoming of one shipmate or succeeded on the overwhelming weight of unified, unanimous, acceptable performance. This my dad took great pains to describe to me and give me an understanding of.

I guess it is no consolation now to those instructors who are probably dead, but whatever teaching techniques they employed certainly worked on my dad. He did volunteer. He was doing what he wanted to do. He did look forward to the excitement of military life. But despite his good attitide, there was no way he could have shared the phenomena of such close-knit company life without the skillful, relentless guidance and oversight of their company commander and all the instructors that taught them. These invaluable lessons he learned in bootcamp served him well in the thick of things that he was headed for.

We were still trying to sort out the chaotic debris at the bottom of Pearl Harbor…the wound that wakened America to wanting war. Despite the outrage and the sense of being betrayed and violated nationally, it seemed, overnight, the whole country was griped with a sense of anticipation and intrigue at the prospects of flexing our collective muscles on behalf of stamping out the tyranny of the evil axis powers. My dad was right there.

Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Key West and Edward

I need to tell you a little bit more about my dad growing up in Key West. He talked a lot about fishing and diving on my grandfather’s boat. Good help was hard to get on the island so my dad missed a lot of school to help with the family business: taking rich visitors out for fishing trips, dragging nets for shrimp, and diving for lobster, conch and sponge in between. The headmaster of the school on the island lived next door to my dad’s home and tutored him in the evenings for free. My dad graduated from High School when he was 15 years old. They only had 11 years for high school graduation back then.

Something else he spoke of often was riding on the liberty boat with his friend, Edward. Edward was a retired 1st Class Boatswain Mate who hailed, according to him, from the old school when men were made of steel and ships were made of wood. Edward claimed to have served with an old seaman who had sailed on the Rhode Island. This was a paddle-wheel steamer whose claim to fame was that she was towing the Monitor when she sunk during the Civil War off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Edward had been stationed in Key West for 4 years before he retired there in 1922
Even though he wasn’t an officer, it had been his job to oversee the care of all the small boats at the Naval Station. Somehow, somebody with a lot of rank had seen to Edward’s extended “easy duty” in Key West due to his sacrifice and service with the naval attachment on merchant vessels during WWI. Three of the ships he served on were sunk. Two by German submarines and one by a Nor’easter off Iceland. All three times he was honored for bravery in rescuing fellow shipmates. One of those times was under machine gun fire and shelling from the sub that had torpedoed them. Miraculously, none of his many wounds were life threatening, though he was missing part of his little finger on his left hand, the toe next to his big toe on his left foot, and a piece off the top of his left ear. All of these he lost to frostbite from spending 18 frozen hours in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic in January.

Being the old salt that he was, with several months under his belt of living off his savings, he bought himself a large, old skiff, rebuilt it himself and went into business hauling former shipmates from ship to shore. My dad thought Edward must have known every khaki clad sailor in the U. S. Navy. All the officers seemed to know him by name. The same held true for many of the merchant marine officers. My dad said he was suspicious about this at first, but he came to understand why Edward was so popular and why the Army and Navy on Key West tolerated Edward’s coming and going on their bases: his heroic reputation was one thing and the other was that he never charged anybody for their ride. He provided his service faithfully, rain or shine, day or night, except Sunday mornings, for tips only. If a sailor was returning to his ship drunk, he would take special care to get him safely on board and in his rack. If a sailor’s heart was broken or if one of the sailors had broken a local girl’s heart, Edward always had time to listen. If somebody was homesick or just completely disillusioned by military life, Edward would wisely guide their thinking onto the bigger picture of life. Many times the discussions would wind their way toward religion. When given the invitation, Edward was quick to rehearse the simple story of who Jesus is, and what He did for us. Many, many a sailor left the ship in miscreant tempers to return with a far brighter, lighter frame of mind.

Edward befriended my dad at church. He taught the teenagers in Sunday School. They all loved Edward, with his shaggy beard, his salty droll, and his gripping account of so many hair-raising adventures at sea. My dad was the only one in the class who did not act like the Bible stories were just more of Edward’s sea stories. Sunday afternoons were often spent shuttling back and forth from dock to dock and ship to shore (if there was one anchored out) with Edward and my dad in intense conversation about subchasing in WWI or rescuing Eskimos on ice flows in the Arctic, or what the guns of Coregador could do to a battleship, or how hard it was to be a lookout on the bridge of a tin-can in the North Atlantic on the midwatch in the middle of winter. The stories went on and on. Given the chance, when my dad was still in his early teens, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. That’s why he joined the U. S. Navy.

Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Clarifying the Lie

My conscience bothered me all day yesterday. I am glad to be back to clarify something about the lie my dad told to the recruiters. It may not be so important to you but to me it is important not to unjustly (or otherwise) dishonor my father. To his dying day, he held my utmost respect. His love for his family and his devotion to his faith were the defining characteristics of his life.

I said I did not know how he got it in his head, to tell the recruiter he was a Jew, but the truth is I did not think that statement all the way through. I wrote before I thought – a bit worse than speaking before you think, I think. Anyhow, I know my dad and I know his only son pretty good…a chip off the old block you might say 🙂 He and I are a lot alike in many ways. When I was a young man, just beginning to taste the liberties and responsibilities of adulthood, I had a propensity to carry worthy principles into the extremes of radical idealism.

I know my dad was a bit like this from stories my mom would tell about him right after they got married in Israel. He would brush his teeth after eating anything no matter what. He was very consistent about it. If he didn’t have a brush he’d use whatever he could find: tightly rolled up newspaper, a feather, a handkerchief, his finger, just to name a few that I heard about. If he had no toothpaste, again, he’d use whatever would be the next best thing available: hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, listerine, hand soap, bubble bath, shampoo, whatever. In Israel, right after the War, there was a great shortage of a lot of things like toothbrushes, and toothpaste…and peace.

Another issue my dad had with the world was traffic laws. I remember my grandfather telling the story of when he took my dad to get his driver’s license. As they were walking up to the Sherrif’s Office at opening time, one of the testing officers drove up and parallel parked in front. My dad, young and unlicensed as he was, innocently stopped the incredulous man to give him instructions as to how to paralled park properly: not so far from the curb, not so close to the other car, not so angled in the space. My dad aced the exam but had to take the driving test three times…with that same officer. Another story was that several times my dad got out of his car at the stop light (I understood my grandfather to say there was only one in town at the time), walked calmly up to the next car in line and politely lectured the driver on some infraction he had witnessed the poor offending soul commit on the road. No one ever took overt offence. As presumptuous as it was, my dad was so innocently nice and polite about it they must have all felt like he had done them a favor! Besides, this was before “road rage” was so popular.

Taking a “good” thing too far showed up in another way in my dad’s early years. He grew up in the depression in Key West, Florida. There were a lot of “hobos” and “beachbums” near where they lived: in a corner house at George St. and Atlantic Blvd., a few blocks from the train station and just across the street from the beach. My grandfather had to punish my dad more than once for bringing several of them into the house to give them food when no one else was there. On one occasion, a pair of my grandfather’s shoes, left at the back door in respect for my grandmother’s hard work keeping house, actually disappeared. Grandfather had to wear his Sunday-go-to-meeting shoes to work on his fishing boat for two weeks until he could save up enough to replace them.

Such were the scrupples of my dad in his younger years. So, about the time he went to enlist, the pastor of the small holiness church he attended with his mom and dad had preached a sermon that struck home with him. “If you are God’s child, if you have been born again, you are a brother to Jesus Christ.” My dad took everything the pastor said as literal fact and he reasoned that if Jesus was a Jew, and he was a brother to Jesus, then he must be a Jew. Then he read what the Bible says about being a Jew in the book of Romans: “He is a Jew who is one inwardly.” So, my dad told the recruiter he was a Jew. The recruiter wrote, “Hebrew” across the top of the folder the enlistment papers were in. Made sense to my day…at the time. Anyway, though there was occasional talk around the supper table about “English” and “Irish” and “German” my dad never paid much attention and couldn’t rightly say what he was beyond human. And, obviously, my dad was mixing up the questions about race and religion. No surprise, knowing my dad, in my knowledge of him, he always identified himself by his faith. Others make light of such things; not my dad. It sure would not be a long stretch to imagine my dad finding some strength knowing that his dogtags identified him with His Master’s race, seeing he was headed for who knows what danger.

Someone reading this might be thinking, “How could anybody be so naive?” Well, my guess is that if you are asking that question, one of two things is true: either you have forgotten what it was like being 18 years old, or you are 18 years old and you don’t have a clue about how naive you are!

Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Meet my dad

I’m a baby-boomer. That says a lot about me to folks who take stock in conventions and stereotypes. My experience has been that everybody breaks the mold in some way… it is just that there are those who shatter expected behavorial and attitudinal traits with gusto and others are very subtle about it. The idea may have some merit that there are unique characteristics that are generally predictable in the various age-groups, but I am careful to look for the real individual with whom I am having to do and leave the prejudices and pidgeon-holes to the demographers, anthropologists, and social-engineers. Oh, there are definitely generalities, but they are universal. Age groups differ, for sure. But they have differed from the beginning of time. (Enough about all this, except, I have to confess: as I think about it, I may be as much a bigot as anyone else I know…sometimes. God forgive me!)

Now all this about breaking the mold, brings up my dad. His name was Tom, too. But all I ever called him was “dad.” In my lifetime I have had my share of friends – all sorts of people, some were in my life for many years, but most came and went in the various phases and stages in my growing up. My dad, through the thick and the thin, even in my most rebellious years never came to me on any other ground than friend. He is the only one who stuck with me when I was down – every time. I was disciplined, it would have been irrresponsible on his part not to communicate the serious consequences of my waywardness. But, even after his powers of influence changed as I trounced into adulthood, he never stopped loving me and on his end of it, he was always there to be a friend when I needed one. Always. I cannot help but thank God for such a faithful example of genuine care and wisdom.

He was predictable as the sunrise in some things but as unpredictable as the weather in others. Take lying for example. I never knew my dad to lie, period. He just told the truth whether it hurt him or not. It was not in him to imagine a lie, not that I could ever tell. Everyone that knew him for any time at all felt the same way. If he said yes, everything within his power was behind it. If he said no, he meant it.

Now there was one important thing I should say about my dad not lying. You could call it an exception. It was at the beginning of the war…WWII that is. I don’t know how he got it in his head, but it was important for him to be considered a Jew when he joined the U.S. Navy. He lied on his enlistment papers. I can’t believe they did not have any better means of checking up on these things, but they just took his word for it. He raised his right hand and swore to whatever they told him to at the induction center and, poof…my dad was a Jew! I can only guess that the hate toward Jews harbored by the enemies we fought in Europe made the recruiters think nobody would dare go over there as a combatant with that on his service record unless it was for sure true, plus, being in the Navy, there was only a slim chance it would ever be an issue anyway. Slim chance? Ri-i-i-ight!

Anyhow, my dad lied about his religion. So, you may be saying to yourself, “How could anybody pass as a Jew, with all the religious rigamorole they have to know about?” Well, my dad did what he does best when he was approached by the chaplain. He told the chaplain the truth: he was raised without any teaching on the Jewish religion in his home. He explained that his parents had raised him as a full-blooded gentile. The chaplain was delighted to know he wanted to learn and he saw to it that for the whole time my dad was stationed in the States he was tutored in the orthodox Hebrew religion by the best the Navy had to offer. My dad’s dogtags had an “H” in the bottom righthand corner…it stood for “Hebrew.” I remember him mentioning that in one way he felt bad about it, but in another way he was proud.

Little did my dad know, at the time, what a difference this charade would make in his life and in the lives and fortunes of so many others.

Gotta run for now.

God bless,


Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.

Introduction of Me

My name is Thomas. I am, I should say up front, NOT experienced in this sort of thing. I have a story to tell you that you will find incredible and gripping at the same time…assuming I don’t get in your way with my shortcomings and lack of skills. In your experience of this cris-crossing drama of intrigue, passion, treachery, sin, hate and love, I hope you will find yourself. The fateful events described here and the raw, hard information on these pages have griped me and I could not help but think you would probably like to hear this, or read it, I should say. As fantastic and unbelievable that parts of it are, I would be surprised if there was anyone who could not personally identify in little ways and in some big ways too! You will see. The very discovery of the scrolls, much less the things they unfold from so long ago, defy my reason and spark my imagination. How can these things be?!

I have to tell you right now…this story is copyrighted. I don’t know what purpose it will serve, but I feel responsible to maintain the integrity of this work. Please read this and share this blog generously, but help me keep it intact by respecting my propriety.

Something else you could do for me: if you find any typos or really ridiculous wordings, please let me know!

Getting this down in print has taken me too far into the night…I must continue…or begin, later. Do have a wonderful day.

God bless,


Copyright 2009, G. Thomas Johnson. All rights reserved.