11-03-2016 Tri-City Area History Page

Paw Paw River Journal

Paw Paw River Journal


Ripples in a Pool

 When we write words and send them out into the world, as I do when I write a column and Karl and the crew publish them, we never know where they are going… like casting a stone into a pool.   The ripples spread and spread.  We never know what shore they will be cast upon.  This was brought home to me recently when we had a visitor one morning.

Tony Meloche stopped in… he is a retired teacher and lives in suburban Hartford.  And he had something most interesting for me to see.  Two magazines, both from 1944!  One was Life and the other, The Saturday Evening Post.  They both contained stories on our Air Force flying the Hump from India to China.  Was I interested?  You bet!

Tony is a collector of such memorabilia.  He also wanted to extend his thanks for my part in that monumental undertaking.   We sat and talked… of course I introduced him to the Chief Accountant.  A most enjoyable time, and he left the magazines for me to examine.  Did that bring back memories?  You bet!  Since then I have been thinking of those times… a million years ago, and just yesterday.

When I look around I see fewer and fewer of my contemporaries.  Most of the guys I knew in WWII were older than I, and I heard that by the year 2030 there will be none of us left; Startling thought and one that is brought home to me every time one of the guys slips away.  I had some great friends when I was flying over in Asia.  They were all older… in fact; I was about the youngest pilot on my base.  I never told them that I was just 20… although they must have surmised that I was not “dry behind the ears” yet.

Now so many years have passed, except for people like Tony, I don’t know how many will likely know about (or care about) the small corner of Asia that I knew, and the friends who lived there and either came back or did not. They demonstrated daily a casual competence, occasional heroism, and humor that was often laced with profanity.  Each and every one is still as true and real in my mind as he was all those years ago.  As long as I live they will not be forgotten.

One of my friends, Harvey Bos, came from Grand Rapids.  He had left a new bride when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  And when we all came home, Harvey stayed on… somewhere in the High Himalayas he was sleeping the Big Sleep with the other crew members in their wrecked C-46.  Later on his family contacted me… I have written about that before and most likely will do so again.

Anyway, Harvey’s family, hoping to learn his fate, attended one of the last national reunions of the China/Burma/India veterans.  They said at the time it would be the last one, because those left were getting to be too old to attend!  I know most of my friends were either in their middle to late 20s, or in their 30s.  They were a great bunch… and really taught me how to fly (even after I’d been through flight training).

It’s not easy to replace old friends, but I can remember when our Aunt Hope was in her 90s.  We handled her affairs for her, and one time we were sitting on her front porch in the Pennsylvania Mountains.  We loved visiting her, and she taught us some of life’s lessons.  Her philosophy was one of faith and perfect acceptance.  She said with a sigh, “You know, all of my friends are gone now.  I have no one left for sharing some precious memories!”

I said to her, “Well, I guess you will just have to get along with younger friends.  And that’s what you have done!”  She agreed.

We’ve sort of gotten to the same point.  Indeed we are fortunate to have family with whom we can share pearls of memory.  And we have tried to make younger friends… some great ones, especially from my early days teaching at Watervliet.

And we have friends from the Vietnam War era.  Several are suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliating spray used to lay bare the lands where roamed the Vietcong.  Many of them also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress.

GIs in WWI had to worry about poison gas… and post traumatic stress.  In WWII we were sprayed with DDT dropped from a converted B-25 to control malaria mosquitoes.  And we daily took Atabrine tablets to combat symptoms of malaria… and some had Post Traumatic Stress, although we didn’t know what it was back then.  In Vietnam they were exposed to Agent Orange, Atabrine tablets, and Post Traumatic Stress… which is now being recognized.

All of those thoughts brought back to me slam-bang when Tony Meloche stopped in to visit. And here’s a new friend!  I didn’t say it at the time, but this is also how we say goodbye to the friends, who have left us… sadly, and with regret, but with the knowledge that they did their job well.  They are all heroes.

I will still cast stones into the pool of life, trying to make some ripples.  And making sure they are remembered in our story book towns along the Paw Paw River, as we continue to weave new golden threads into the marvelous tapestry of