Friday, January 1, 2021

The Uncle I Never knew

Arne Gerhard Benson, the uncle I never knew died when I was seven, and I didn’t know he existed until I was a teenager. His military service was revealed to me when I was given a stack of letters in 2008. I believe it is best to tell what I can of his story with excerpts from those letters.

____

Cordova Alaska, July 2, 1942,
Dear Mother
… As you know I cannot say much about what I am doing except that it’s in the line of defense. … I may be deferred if my work is important enough, … I will try and get home after this business is over. …
Your Son, Arne

***

Ft. Lewis, Wash, Dec 2, 1942,
Dear Mother,
… I’m in the Army now. Just four weeks tomorrow. … I was rather sorry to leave Alaska, … It was pretty lonesome up there. …
Your Son, Arne

***

Ft. Lewis, Wash, Jan. 16, 1943,
Dearest Mother,
This is the first time I’ve had off for some time so will write a few lines. … I’ve still got Pay Checks coming from the Army Engineers. … We had some pretty tough going up North, and also in the Orient … I can’t tell you much about it now but hope to be able to soon. …
Your loving Son, Arne,

***

Ft. Lewis Wash, Jan. 16, 1943,
Dear Dot (Arne’s sister),
… I’m in intensive training once more so guess my back will be all right. I didn’t tell Mother as she would have worried. I transferred my service when I got out of the hospital. I was with the Army Engineers in Alaska waters and the Far East. I got broken up … in the Bering Sea. My collar bone, three ribs, two vertebrae in my back and my left leg below the knee. It sounds like a lot but wasn’t so bad….
Your Bro, Arne

***

Apr. 24, 1943,
Dear Mother,
Just a line to let you know that everything is O.K. with me. … I’m getting rather skinny from too long hrs. and too much work, but as soon as I get the stripes I want, I’ll take it easy again (maybe).
As always, your son, Arne

***

Office of the Chaplain, May 7, 1943,
Mrs. Josina Benson, Sanish, North Dakota,
My dear Mrs. Benson Last Wednesday morning at 10:00 o’clock I conducted the funeral service for your son Arne G. Benson SN 39194057, who passed away Sunday morning May 2. … interment was made in Fort Lewis Cemetery. …
___

Uncle Arnie’s military record shows that he died of Scarlet Fever with a secondary cause of Bronchopneumonia. With no living relatives to answer questions, knowing that the Japanese invaded parts of the Aleutian Islands, the Corps of Engineering built landing strips there, and Japanese radio was monitored from fishing boats, one can only wonder what experience was behind some of his statements.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

No Reason

No Reason is a rejected flash fiction 

Sixteen-year-old Paul Logos, normally calmed by running, was angry – spitting angry – almost cursing angry. His only competition on the weed lined muddy trail between yet unplowed fields was himself. He increased his tempo to a lung burning and leg rubbering pace. Escalating his exertion gave him no decrease in mood. Approaching a rickety 100-year-old wooden footbridge leading to the graveled county road, his thoughts between breaths raced as fast as he ran.

There was no reason for them to move here from the City.

He day-trades from home; she can paint anywhere.

No reason!

Paul’s jaw tightened and his chest and diaphragm labored to keep needed oxygen flowing into his lungs. His feet slipped on the rain dampened path. His drying throat ached. All that cooled his body and mood was the light drizzle in the air.

No college with my grades.

Would’ve gotten a scholarship when the scouts saw me run in the City.

No one’s going to see me run here in the middle of nowhere.

No reason!

He dodged puddles, mud slowed his pace, and his feet slipped often making breathing more difficult. His eyes watered from within as he approached the bridge leading to the gravel road. Scouts probably never heard of the Podunk high school out here.

No reason!

Paul, inattentive to his surroundings from his anger and physical stress, contemplated if or not he should cross over the flood-stage creek to get a better running surface. He gripped the rain-soaked moss on the bridge railing as he labored for air and cried – silently at first – then with a roar of anguish.

A scream piercing through the sound of rushing water got his attention. He saw an ATV stopped about mid-span with one wheel trapped by a break in the bridge surface; part of the rail next to it was broken away. He jogged to the idling vehicle where a girl, about ten, held the clutch lever tightly against the handlebar with both hands. Even through his watering eyes Paul could see the panic on her face.

The girl bellowed, “My brother! He’s in the water!”

Paul responded, “How long?”

She yelled out, “He held on to the rail as long as he could. He just went under the bridge.” Turning her head downstream, she shouted, “He can’t swim! But he’s still floating!” Releasing her grip on the clutch lever with one hand, she pointed and puffed out, “See!”

The ATV wheels spun between the broken deck boards of the bridge. Paul gripped the clutch, turned off the ignition, and lifted her to the bridge deck. He panted, “You have a phone?”

“He had it!”

“Take mine. Go to the road. Call someone.”

Paul went into sprint mode as if leaving the starting blocks in an adrenalin fueled competition. His lungs ached, and his legs were rubbering again before he passed the boy flailing in the stream. He dove in downstream from the struggling boy. The cold water restored his leg strength, and he pulled the boy into an eddy under an overhanging tree. He grabbed a low branch with one hand then got a scissor grip under the boy’s arms with his legs. The boy struggled as Paul went arm over arm on the branch bounced by the turbulence on their bodies. His arms started to feel like his legs did earlier, but his grip was determined.

Paul’s lungs still heaved, his body ached, but his thoughts about himself disappeared as volunteer fire fighters pulled them up from the water’s edge.

He refocused, I feel selfish! There is a reason for them moving me here.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Fourteen Cents

"Fourteen Cents" is a rejected flash fiction
 

Most of the world was still at war in the spring of 1943. The 35-year-old soldier Gerhardt was neither in combat when he died nor was he in the Army when he was wounded by the enemy in the Pacific Theater just a year before.

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America was full into the Great Depression by 1930 and jobs were scarce at best, but the newly married Gerhardt had cooking skills. His new wife hungered for city life and adventure that rich men could provide, so she left a saddened young husband for the streets of Chicago. The divorce gave her everything except his clothing and a week’s rent. 

Pearl Harbor happened, Gerhardt tried to enlist, but one bad eye, even corrected with glasses, would only allow him to be classified for non-combat duty. He did get a civilian job cooking for a US Corps of Engineers unit at Cordoba, Alaska. As much as he tried to convince the military that his having grown up with hunting rifles and being able to shoot a pistol quite well should be a waiver. He felt that combat would ease his gnawing anger towards the woman he thought had loved him. His wish would come true but not in a way he expected. 

In March of 1942, there was a call for volunteers to cook on fishing boats. Gerhardt was disgusted with partial pay and the long hours cooking for three shifts of difficult to please military officers. He volunteered and was accepted for cooking on the Random. But the Random only looked like a fishing trawler. The rigging masked antennae tuned to pick up Japanese navy and onshore communications. 

All but the radio operators’ supervisor, the commanding lieutenant and the first mate were on shore when the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor started on June 3rd. The Random and the three men still on board went down in the attack. 

Early in the morning of the 4th, the surviving crew of the Random was flown to Adak Island to supplement the crew of a larger radio intercept ship already diverted to Adak Harbor. Japanese marines were already landing on the island before the ship arrived, so it was diverted. Concerned with the intelligence gathering knowledge of the surviving Random crew, command initiated a plan to have them escorted by American marines to a departing cargo aircraft. 

A squad of Japanese marines ambushed them and during the fire fight Gerhardt became separated from his group. He faced a single enemy with a bayonet mounted rifle with only his empty Pistol. Gerhardt realized that if the enemy he faced had bullets he would have been shot. The Japanese Imperial Marine lunged. Gerhardt side stepped and parried the rifle with his arm. He heard the ulna in his left arm snap but his in-fight adrenalin dulled the pain. The marine continued his parried thrust with a rifle butt-stroke to Gerhardt’s head. He avoided the second thrust with a quick turn, but the tip of the bayonet nicked his already broken arm. The marine slipped on a loose rock and Gerhardt took momentary advantage by striking a blow to the enemy’s jaw with his pistol. The Japanese recovered and charged again but was taken down by a round from an American marine. 

Gerhardt had not received compensation for his cooking duties on the fishing boat but did receive all of his Cordova back pay in one check during his fourth week of rehabilitation. With new clothing and more cash than he had ever known in his pockets, he met a fifteen years younger woman at a dance, and they were married in early October. 

Gerhardt still wanted to serve, and his status was no longer a mental roadblock to him. He was reexamined and declared fit for duty in a non-combat role. He was required to take a shortened version of basic training and would be restricted to base for four weeks. 

The day before he reported for training, his new wife convinced him to put their accounts in her name so she could set up an apartment for them to share when his training was over. He did that and filed official papers naming her as his allotment recipient and heir to his military insurance policy. The day after he entered basic training she filed for legal separation. 

Gerhardt was forced to live on base and his part of his base pay would be only enough to pay for his necessities. He was resolved that he had been taken but had been assured by an Army attorney that his retirement would be safe if he served twenty years. 

The soldier cook was hospitalized with scarlet fever in late April of 1943. Pneumonia took over his lungs and his doctors anticipated lengthy hospitalization and possible separation from service after recovery. His estranged wife was contacted, and without visiting, she picked up his belongings. 

Pfc. Gerhardt did not recover, and military mortuary personnel found two nickels, four pennies, and a tax token on his hospital nightstand.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Rat

 "Rat" is a rejected flash fiction story

Forty-year-old US Army Vietnam veteran Carl ‘Rat’ Moreau left a federal prison gate with Salvation Army release-clothing and $100 in gate-money on the twentieth anniversary of the TET Offensive. A guard stopped him as he started to board the shuttle bus to the nearby city, saying, “Boss wants you to have this.”

A note and 100-dollar bill were attached to a bus ticket to Seattle. “Rat – I hope this helps. It’s all I can do. What you did for me in Nam needs some reward. - Carter”

Moreau had been wounded twice, decorated for saving his squad by his tunnel-rat action, and honorably discharged. College on the GI Bill, MBA, and a $150,000 a year job came next. He served five years for felony real-estate fraud after being scapegoated by lawyered-up executives in the corporation.  Warden Parker Carter remembered Moreau’s saving him and several others from a Vietcong tunnel boobytrap

The convicted felon had excellent academic qualifications and in the late 80s the movement to hire Vietnam vets had started. But he had to declare his felony conviction to be truthful on any job application. Discovering he could work for cash, without a written application in nearly any agribusiness along the I-5 corridor from Canada to Mexico, he took that route to just support a new habit.

Seventy-year-old Moreau was anticipating his tenth anniversary of being clean and sober on the 50th anniversary of the TET Offensive. He’d worked those ten years cleaning toilets, showers, and the processing floor at a slaughterhouse in Oregon. His pay was less than minimum wage in cash, but he was allowed to eat ‘clean-up’ from the plant cafeteria. Free eats and sleeping under the modified canopy of his 1985 pickup parked on the back lot of the plant enabled him to grow his cash equal a year of his former gross annual salary.

Rat was cleaning the office restroom when he heard a man ask the manager, “Is Carl Moreau employed here?”

He looked around the door, saw two suited men in the office, and heard the manager ask, “Are you police or ICE?”

Before Moreau heard an answer from the men in the office, he went out a side door. By sunset, Rat was underground in California and would never know the answer given to the manager.

“Neither,” one man said. “We have good news for him from the Innocence Project.”

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Gift of the Rose and Rufus

"Gift of the Rose and Rufus" is a rejected flash fiction story

Mallory gimp-walked the perimeter of the repossessed property with Rufus, his 12-year-old arthritic English Sheepdog following at a slower pace. He paused and studied the Tibet roses his mother had planted 50 years before as a memorial to the KIA Vietnam veteran father he’d never known.

Waiting for the old dog to catch up, Mallory turned toward the clapboard, two-bedroom house built for workers at the long-closed WWII shipyard. Always needed paint, but at least the inside looks better than the outside.

The rose was in August heat-stress and Mallory turned to get the hose. Crap! They cut off the water yesterday. A tear ran down his cheek as he looked at Rufus sniffing the dry soil around the plant. He’s never known another place – he’ll stay here when this is all over.

The next afternoon he penciled a letter to his estranged older sister. It said in part, “After Mother died, it took nearly a month to clear enough space to start some very necessary improvements before I moved in from my rental. I’d always assumed she used Father’s $20,000 military insurance to pay off the mortgage. The VA has records of the cashier’s check being endorsed by Mother, but I never found a bank deposit. I drained my savings to cover back payments and taxes. Mother left it in my name, but I felt you were equal in the estate. They’ve taken the property, so there’s no estate to share, but no debt either. My dog Rufus with severe arthritis; was put down this morning. I’ll bury his ashes next to the rose Mother planted for Father.”

None of Mallory’s neighbors were interested in the withering rose. He put the plant in yard debris recycling and got $10 from a scrap metal merchant for the brass plaque.

He felt emotional and physical pain as he pushed a spade deep into the soil where he’d taken out the rose. He pried up. A corner of a rusted metal box appeared with his effort. A block of paraffin wax dropped from the nearly disintegrated box when he removed it from the soil. He replaced the space taken by the box with the cardboard container of Rufus’ ashes.

Mallory found a sealed canning jar inside the paraffin block with 200, still crisp, $100 bills. If not for Rufus, I’d not have a gift from the rose left by Mother.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

First or Next

 

"First or Next" is a rejected flash fiction story

Adam Byzantine-III was the first grandson of Adam Byzantine-I and his girlfriend Eve Havah. He tasked himself to do focused research to understand the lives and deaths of his grandfather Adam-I and granduncle Rishon.

His ancestor programs research revealed no children of Rishon and his wife Mattea. Saved family letters confirmed that Eve and Mattea became close friends after Adam-I and Rishon died the same day. The women often speculated about whom died first or next. Authorities ruled Rishon’s death suicide, but there were questions in the minds of both women. Were the authorities wrong and one death was by murder? If so, which of the brothers murdered the other?

The young doctoral candidate saw irony in his grandparents having biblical given names. Adam-III was the first born of his parents, but he knew his name didn’t mean first born. He fully accepted the biblical account of Adam being the first human and Eve was the name God gave as his gift to Adam.

From his studies in Hebrew, Adam-III knew Rishon means “the first” and Mattea means “gift of God.” The given names were as confusing to him as his family name. Skipping past the classic meanings of Byzantine, he found the improper noun meaning – of something characterized by intrigue, scheming, or deviousness.

Oral and documented family history verified that Rishon and Adam-I were raised as one and what one did the other did also, but not necessarily at the same time. Rishon was generally kicking, crying, and colicky; Adam-I was restful, cooing, and tranquil. Just as in the legend of Romulus and Remus, Adam-I and Rishon were orphaned, disagreed on most things, were raised without human loyalty, and found women lacking in their early lives.

Adam-III discovered that Rishon and Mattea met during studies for a degree in sociology. Adam-I, also a student in the Masters of Sociology program, met Eve under different circumstances.  She was the graveyard shift waitress at the Dunkin` Doughnuts where insomniac students added to their inability to sleep with strong brewed coffee and often unnecessary over-study of assigned material.

Coincidentally, Cain, the son of the original Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel and Romulus killed his brother Remus.

Only Rishon knew he would be taking Adam-I with him when he leapt from a cliff into an abyss below.

Or did Adam-I go first?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Say What?

 A young man dribbled gas on his coat sleeve while filling up his vehicle at a self-serve pump. A short time later, he lit a cigarette and held it out the window to keep the smell out of the car as he drove through town. A spark caught his sleeve on fire, and he waved it frantically in the wind. An officer stopped the young man and gave him a citation for displaying a firearm in public.

The same young man was ticketed for texting while driving. A short time later the same officer stopped him and asked him why he was texting while driving after getting a ticket. The young man replied, “I wasn’t texting. I was using an app to pay my fines.”

The Uncle I Never knew

Arne Gerhard Benson, the uncle I never knew died when I was seven, and I didn’t know he existed until I was a teenager. His military service...