This week I invite you over to the Freewheeling Freelancer to consider some lessons new and old from my years on the road. They may apply to your own travel, even if not by bicycle. Enjoy!
“There. Finish up, nurse, thank you.” Her wide, brown eyes did not change expression as she waited for instructions. “Sorry. Et voilà. Je vous laisse finir, madame.”
“Bien sûr, docteur. Allez vous reposer.” Sure, doctor. Go get some rest. She reached for the bandage tape, and began cleaning and covering the incision. She was the third nurse to assist him today. An American WAC, a Scottish nurse from the British Army, and this local civilian who volunteered. The patients were just as varied.
Jason Lockhart wiped the sweat from his brow with his bloody forearm and turned unsteadily to the wash basin in the corner of the tent. Another one saved. He cleaned up as best he could and staggered into the blinding sunshine to find his quarters. After the oppressive heat of the heavy medical tent, the wind off the Atlantic felt wonderful, in spite of the sand and salt spray that came with it.
He fell onto his cot fully clothed. Someone shook his shoulder. Opening his eyes, he saw that it was dark.
“Napping on the job again, Lockhart?” Marcus MacAlan’s cheerful Scottish brogue finished waking Jason up. “Come get some food. Then go back to sleep.”
“What time is it?”
“Eighteen hundred. I think that’s two bells of the second dog-watch to you swabbies.” He grinned. “What’s important is that the mess tent is still serving supper. I know you’ll sleep through that and breakfast again if I don’t watch out for you.”
“Thanks, Marcus. You’re a real friend.”
“And you’re a damn hero. You pulled sixteen men back from the brink today. It’s the buzz all over the camp.”
“That many? I lost count.”
“I noticed. Now you finish cleaning up and change into something decent. Then let’s eat.”
Forty-five minutes later, Lieutenant Commander Jason J. Lockhart, MC, USN, emerged from the tent looking more like a naval officer than the blood-splattered, dark-eyed skeleton that had crept into it some three hours earlier. His friend Marcus, a surgeon attached to the British Army forces in the invasion, walked with him to the mess tent.
“About the only bright side to this operation is the food,” Marcus said as they pointed to entrees on the line. “You Yanks have no idea how to set up an officers’ mess in a tent, but at least you were smart enough to accept the French offer to send over their cooks.”
“I agree. The cooks on our hospital ship are good, but this is special.” They carried their portions of coq au vin, flageolet verts and pommes de terre rissolées to a table. The only thing missing was a good French wine, but it was an American operation, so no luck there.
“Aren’t you on at midnight?” Jason asked as they tucked into the hot, dripping chicken.
“Aye, but I took a nap, and I’ll take another before going on.”
“I hope you have a dull shift.”
“Thanks. I hear the battle was short-lived. Gave us lots of work now, but we should not have many trickling in after today.”
“Any word on your replacement unit?” One of the two landing craft with medical teams on board took a hit from a French destroyer and sank. The Commander of the Central Force ordered the hospital ship to send over a surgeon with a nurse and some corpsmen to help out until replacements could come from Gibraltar. That put Jason Lockhart and four others in the sand.
“Last word was two hours ago. The hospital in Gibraltar balked at losing a full surgical team, but promised replacements in a week after General Patton threatened to visit them personally.”
“I hear Old Blood and Guts is a real sweetie.”
An hour later, the two tent mates were fast asleep. In the morning, Jason awoke to the sound of bugles and shouts of soldiers. One of his corpsmen knocked outside.
“Dr. Lockhart, sir?”
“Yes, Williams, I’m awake. What’s going on?”
“Breaking camp, sir. The Vichy surrendered. We’re moving into the city.”
“Fedhala? It’s too small.”
“Casablanca, sir. All three landings are consolidating there.”
“Okay. Thanks. I’ll be packed and out of here in a few minutes. Is Nurse Haines up?”
“Yes, sir. She already mustered the rest of us at the hospital tent.”
Jason grinned. “Good. I’ll be right out.”
Marcus appeared as Jason shouldered his duffel and stepped outside.
“I hear that our humble home is disappearing.”
“Aye, and it’s the big city now.” Marcus slapped Jason on the arm and went into the tent to pack.
At the hospital tent, Lieutenant Haines was checking on the wounded with the three corpsmen. When she saw Jason, she motioned him outside.
“Good morning, sir. I hope you slept well.”
“Yes, nurse, thanks. I came straight here, but I probably should have stopped at the command tent.”
“Did that already, sir.” She smiled. A head nurse in a big city hospital before the war, Beulah Haines was accustomed to handling young doctors as skillfully as she handled wounded gangsters, and now, soldiers. “Word is that all three Attack Forces will move overland to the Mediterranean Coast.”
“And we go with them. Apparently General Patton was impressed when he saw how many survived here in Fedhala.” She caught the slight sag in Jason’s face. “No good deed goes unpunished, sir.” They chuckled and joined the others to organize their part of the move as the tents came down around them.
Three weeks later, Jason was stitching the right leg of a ten-year-old boy in the operating tent near Tangiers. The other five boys were killed by a land mine where they were playing. Jason had managed to connect all the muscles in the leg, and pull it all back together. Beulah Haines helped him with the bandaging.
“He’ll limp for the rest of his life, but hopefully not enough to slow him down.” Jason looked up as an orderly walked in.
“Out of here!” Haines barked. “This is a sterile area.”
“Sorry.” The young private ducked back out and called in. “You’ve got mail! The postal clerk sent me to let you know, because we almost never get Navy mail.”
The surgical team exchanged glances, then smiles. They cleaned up the operating area briskly and joined the Army surgical teams at mail call that afternoon.
“Here you go, Jason.” Marcus MacAlan handed him a canvas bag. “I saw it on the back of the truck with just your name on it. I wager the ship’s mail room was overflowing with unclaimed mail from you five.”
“I guess. Thanks.” After all the mail was distributed, the two friends walked back to their tent, where Marcus pulled out a bottle of single malt whisky from his duffel and shared it with Jason as they opened their envelopes. Jason’s mail was almost all from his brother, so he put the letters in chronological order. It was the first mail he had received since leaving the USA three months earlier.
Ilion, New York
August 15, 1942.
I have no idea where you are, when you’ll get this, or what you’re doing, but I hope you are safe and in a place where you can keep up with events at home as I write. Since you left, everyone has been fine, more or less. Mother had a cold last month, but she got over it. Dad has been busy taking care of her, which is a big help to Carrie and me, because the gun factory has put us on 12-hour shifts. Carrie had to quit her job to be here for the twins. My overtime doesn’t quite replace her income, but there’s less and less to buy every week anyway. Thank God we have a garden.
I hope you beat the Krauts and get home soon. Mother, Dad, and Carrie join me in sending you our love. You are daily in our prayers.
“Seems like everything is stable at home.” Jason took another sip of the Scotch. “This stuff is so smooth! Where does it come from?”
“A little still down the road from our house. Glen Fiddich.”
Jason counted the letters again. There were three more.
Ilion, New York
September 1, 1942.
The news is not good this time. Mother fell last week. She thought she was going up to her bedroom, but she was at the top of the stairs, not the bottom. She broke her right hip and her left forearm. Dad is with her in the hospital in Utica, helping to care for her. He drives back here to shower and shave and change his clothes. It feels like no one is home when I wake up after sleeping (I’m on the night shift), and the girls are at school. Most times, Carrie is shopping, out in the garden, or visiting Mother when I get up. Carrie is incredible. She gardens, repairs masonry and cabinetry, cooks, cleans, and keeps the twins under control by making them help. She has me show her things she doesn’t know when I’m up, but then takes care of them herself after that. When I see the posters of Rosie the Riveter near the clock at the factory, I have to smile. Rosie has nothing on Carrie.
Mother is not well, but all we can do is pray now. Stay well yourself.
Jason tore open the next letter.
Ilion, New York
September 15, 1942.
This is a terrible way to tell you, from so far away. Our parents have died. Mother passed away in the hospital three days ago. Dad was crying when he left. I have never seen him cry in my life. The police found his car by the side of the road, still running. He was slumped over the wheel. The doctors at the hospital think he had a heart attack. I’ve authorized an autopsy, but I don’t know if I want the details. You might, though: it’s your profession. So, I told them to go ahead.
Don’t anyone ever tell me that you can’t die of a broken heart. I am so sorry to have to write to you. It is taking me a while to write all this, because I keep stopping. I’m crying myself, sitting here alone, sharing this news.
There is so much to do, even as we try to process having them both gone so suddenly. Just this morning, word came down that some of us will be sent to Independence, Missouri, to expand the factory there. Meanwhile, I have a meeting in Frankfort with Mr. Leyre to read Dad’s will. As you know, I’m the executor. Mr. Leyre said that it’s a straightforward process. The house will go through Probate and all that.
Time to go to work. Be well and win this war for us soon, please. Carrie and the girls send their love, too.
“Are you well, Jason?” Marcus took his cup and tipped more whiskey into it.
“My parents died back in September.”
“Bloody hell! Both of them?”
Jason nodded. “Mom fell and died in the hospital. She wasn’t well already, and the fall did her in. Dad was heartbroken, I guess. It seems he had a heart attack driving back home from the hospital.”
Moving to Jason’s cot, Marcus sat down and put his arm around the devastated man’s shoulder. “I am so sorry for you, mate.” They sat there while the shadows lengthened outside, gently sipping the single-malt Scotch. When the last sip was taken, Jason turned to his friend and broke down. Marcus held him tight while the tears from the new orphan dampened his shirt.
After a while, Jason stopped sobbing. He sat up and took a deep breath. “Sorry about that, Marcus.”
“What’s to be sorry about? If you hadn’t cried, there’d have to be something wrong with you.”
“I’m glad I could be here.” Marcus looked at the remaining letter. “I’m afraid to mention it, but you still have another letter there.”
“Oh, yeah.” Opening the last letter, Jason read.
October 20, 1942
Where do I begin? We’re all here in Independence, in a new house close to the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. It’s an Army facility, but Remington runs it for them, and old 4-F’s like me are cranking out several different types of small arms ammunition. I’m in the R&D unit, testing new rounds for various Allied rifles and machine guns.
Dad’s will confirmed that I was the sole heir. This was not a surprise; we all knew that Dad was passing the house and the rest to me. There wasn’t anything except the house. The surprise was finding out that we couldn’t keep it. The company decided that I should go to Independence, and the house is way too big for us to maintain. Besides, Carrie’s parents live just outside Kansas City, so it was not a hard choice to sell the old house in Ilion and move here. The girls still have grandparents around. It’s good here, and we can heal our wounds and replace the memories with new ones.
We packed all your things carefully in boxes, and we have a room for you here when you return to the States. If you settle somewhere else, we’ll ship the boxes to you. We were careful not to make any choices for you; if we weren’t positive it was ours, it’s in your boxes.
The address here is RFD #32, Independence, Missouri. We’re on a country road close to Buckner. The phone exchange is Independence 223.
Please come home safe. There’s enough grief to go around in this war.
Carrie and the girls send their love. So do Doris and Jim (Carrie’s parents, in case you forgot).
“Well? More bad news?” Marcus had moved back to his own cot.
Jason was silent as he digested the meaning of this latest letter. He felt anguish losing his parents and the home he grew up in, all in a single afternoon of his life. At the same time, he knew that the home had never been his – or Frank’s for that matter. He had left home once already when he went to Cornell for college; now the home had left him. Simple. Only time would heal the loss he was feeling now for his parents. When his throat started to close, he put that thought down.
“Yes and no. On one hand, I not just an orphan; I’m a homeless orphan. My brother had to sell the house when he was sent to Missouri to another ammunition plant. On the other hand, it’s near my sister-in-law’s family, so they are settling in well and my nieces still have grandparents in their lives.”
“You never got your own place, did you?”
“No. In a way, this is best. When this damn war is over, I can look out with no commitment to anywhere in particular. I can also get over the grief better by not walking around Ilion with its memories.”
“You’ll be fine.” Marcus stoppered the bottle and put it in his duffel. “Fancy some of that French cuisine in the mess tent?”
© 2020, JT Hine
“Turn to, crew!” I barked, as I passed the Plebes’ room (Plebes are first-year midshipmen/cadets at US service academies). I kept jogging toward the stairs, confident that the two underclassmen would be scrambling after me, and catch me before I reached the door to Bancroft Hall. I knew well the exhilaration they must feel to be done with classes for the day, and heading away from upper-class harassment for a couple of hours. Continue reading
I was a weird kid. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – always. Be a Naval Officer. And to do that I knew that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of my persistent daydreams as a boy and a teenager was to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. When I started Plebe Summer in June of 1965, that was the first activity that I checked into – and my first of many disappointments. The midshipmen in the D&B Corps all were accomplished musicians, usually first chair in their high school band or orchestra with at least four years of top-level playing. I was not even eligible to apply.
But I liked music, and I noticed an announcement on the Chapel bulletin board about auditioning for the three Choirs (two Protestant and one Catholic). Chief Musician Joseph McCuen, USN, the organist at the Naval Academy Chapel, directed the Catholic Choir. He also directed the Naval Academy Glee Club. Slim, short and almost always smiling, the silver-haired musician made an announcement about auditions at our first Sunday in Chapel. I genuinely liked church, and I liked participating by more than sitting in the pews. I wrestled with my pessimism about auditioning after the D&B Corps experience, but my roommates encouraged me to try for it. The delay put me at the very end of a line that stretched out into the street. The odds looked terrible, I thought. It wasn’t that big a choir. At least while we were standing in that line, no upperclassmen would harass us, so I stayed.
Chief McCuen was sitting at the upright piano in his office. He motioned to the chair at the end of the piano, then asked me why I wanted to be in the Choir and about my musical background. My answers took less time than the questions, though today I cannot remember what I said. He pulled an Armed Forces Hymnal from the pile on top of the piano and opened it to a hymn near the middle.
“I’ll give you the first note, then you sing the bass line,” he said, tapping his finger on the lowest line of notes.
“Don’t sir me. I’m a Chief. You’re an officer.” He hit the note. I noticed that all the lowest notes were on the same line and that they were all round circles. Nothing sticking out of them.
“Eternal Father, strong to save…” I sang in the steadiest monotone I could muster, careful to make each note the same length. He stopped after one line.
“That’s good.” He said, closing the cover on the keyboard. “You’re a second tenor. Rehearsal is at 20:00 in the Choir Loft. White Works uniform.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Don’t sir me. Everyone in my choir calls me Joe.” He smiled and shook my hand. “It’s going to be the only four hours of sanity you get every week for a year. Welcome aboard.”
Back in Bancroft Hall, my roommates were elated. I did not understand why they were so pleased for me.
“JT, you’re such a dummy sometimes,” said Larry, who was in the Drum & Bugle Corps. “You have just gotten out of all Sunday morning formations and marching to Chapel forever!”
“Because the Choirs have to muster a half-hour before the services to warm up. Didn’t you realize that’s why there were so many guys lined up to audition?”
Thus began fifty years of singing in Choirs, Music Shows and Choral Societies. Joe asked me to join the Naval Academy Glee Club at the end of Plebe Summer, and I have been studying music and singing ever since.
©2020, JT Hine
“I got it!” Charley Attard shouted in my ear. I could hardly hear him over the storm. “You get some sleep.”
The helm stiffened as he gripped the wheel, and I let go. As I stepped back in the dark cabin, Charley swung into my place. Continue reading
Many of you have come to this site from The Freewheeling Freelancer, which is now almost seven years old. The website of my little company, Scriptor Services LLC went live 27 years ago. In that time, I have embraced three careers, rolled on two continents, published non-fiction and fiction, and learned much about the world.
Are you curious?
I’ll answer, even if it’s to say “I don’t know.”
If your question inspires a whole post, I’ll give you credit, using your first name. Please tell me if you want to remain anonymous.
Thanks to Christian for this Q&A idea, and I look forward to your questions.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,
We had been living in Rome for three years when the brand new Pope, John XXIII, stunned his own cardinals and advisers by announcing that he would convene an Ecumenical Council. No one really understood how historic it would be, on so many levels. Three years later, in October 1962, more than 2,000 Bishops and major prelates converged on the Eternal City to answer his call. It was the first time that an Ecumenical Council included outside observers (17 denominations of Eastern Orthodox and Protestants). In my opinion, it was the first true Ecumenical Council since the Council of Trent in 1563, because Vatican Council I only had a minority of bishops (88 Italians and 4 Frenchmen) in attendance by the time that Garibaldi crashed through the Porta Pia on 20 September 1870 and scattered the assembly. Most of the cardinals and bishops were still on their way. (“Ecumenical” means everyone.)
Rome was crazy with colorful clergy of all types wandering around. The American delegation was struggling. To their great surprise, there were no interpreting services at the Council, because every priest was expected to be fluent in Latin. This was not a dead language for me and my classmates taking Latin IV at school. We were using it every day, interpreting for delegates or just helping with conversation practice after serving Mass each morning.
Mom and I operated the sauna and steam bath concession in the basement of the Cavalieri Hilton Hotel, which had just opened. As the first five-star, American-style hotel in Rome, the American prelates favored the Cavalieri Hilton, and many came down to our establishment to get over the stress of the day. The joke ran around the hotel that our cool-down pool was full of holy water from the constant immersion of bishops and cardinals.
One night as I was closing up, I got a phone call from one of our regular clients, the Auxiliary Bishop of Newburgh, New York. He was a humble man, who did not like being called anything fancier than “Father.”
“Jonathan, could you come up to my room for a while?” he asked. “I have a document that we need help with tonight.” Thanking my lucky stars that I had finished my own homework already that evening, I took the lift up to his suite. He met me with a thick, typewritten manuscript.
“We were just given this today. I think it’s a draft Encyclical [major policy letter from the Pope]. The American delegation has a meeting right after breakfast to prepare our national response to it. But none of us can read it, especially something that thick in one night.”
“I can’t type or write that fast, Father,” I said, hefting the volume in my hands. He sat down at his coffee table, and pulled a large yellow pad of paper towards himself.
“I was wondering if you could read it to me – in English. I will take notes. I am hoping that will give us enough information to put something together in the morning.”
He was asking for a “sight translation,” something that court interpreters often do. Sight translation from Latin? Why not? I opened the manuscript and began to interpret, “Pacem in Terris…” Peace on Earth…
Today, I think that the first crack in the two-year-old Berlin Wall appeared as I read, walking a circle into the carpet of his room. On Maundy Thursday, 11 April 1963, Pacem in Terris hit the world media, and the Cold War began to come to an end. It was the first Encyclical not written to Catholics, but to all people. In it, Pope John blasted both sides of the Cold War, meaning the Americans and the Soviets, and their respective Allies. He told them to get on with taking care of their people and to start working on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
For more on both the Encyclical and the Council, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacem_in_terris and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Vatican_Council
© 2019 JT Hine