A Way to Go

The news was a day late. It did not make me any less proud, and considering the lunch i had yesterday, it was all aligned:


San Diego has a large contingent of what remains of the greatest generation’s greatest folks who served: World War II veterans. It probably has the largest contingent remaining of those who were at Pearl Harbor one Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941.

Frank Manchel was not at Pearl Harbor but he was no less a hero. The fact San Diego has long honored veterans, especially those who served in World War II like Manchel makes me proud of the city. For those who don’t know, the San Diego Padres honor active duty and retired personnel, and veterans, every Sunday home game. There are many other examples of San Diego honoring military personnel, active duty, retired military, and veterans.

As the story in the link notes, Mr. Manchel died on the return trip of an honor flight. As i read, i felt proud.

Just like i’m proud of my friend and shipmate who shared a stateroom with me on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) while we were on the staff of Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five deployed to the Western Pacific. Al Pavich was blown out of his swift boat in Vietnam, thrown about fifty feet (as i remember; it could have been a further toss) against a tree. Undaunted, he became a limited duty officer retiring as a Commander. He then became the CEO of Vietnam Veterans of San Diego (now “Veterans Village of San Diego” but still “VVSD”), which he led into becoming a model across the nation for rehabilitating homeless veterans . When i read the article, i thought of Al and beamed even more.

The story of Frank Manchel also brought to mind my connection to Pearl Harbor and aligned with my lunch yesterday.

Years ago, i put a flagpole atop the slope on the back of our property. The US Ensign (that’s what it is properly called in the Navy) flies there. It can be seen for at least three miles away. It has been the source of many compliments from folks in the area. One special complement remains the best.

Jesse Thompson lived at the bottom of the hill. One day, he came up to our house and knocked on the door. Only our high school daughter Sarah was home. He told Sarah he was a Pearl Harbor survivor and others who were there that day of infamy joined him every Wednesday to swap stories and reminisce. It turns out Jesse’s home was pretty much a World War II museum, filled with memorabilia of the war. He explained to Sarah that every Wednesday, he and his fellow survivors look up at my flag on the hill because it reminds them of the one on Mount Suribachi, you know, the one with the flag in the iconic photo of the Marines raising it after a victory on Okinawa. i was thrilled.

i have written about Jesse before. He’s gone now. There are precious few of those survivors left.

Then while Maureen was in La Jolla having lunch with friends, i decided to go to my favorite place, Bonita Golf Club. It ain’t fancy. That is one of the reasons i like it. Down to earth, good folks, lots of old ones. One of the old ones who i had never met bothered me. He always parks in a place at the end of the marked spaces, right next to the door of the restaurant. The vehicle is one of those that the makers couldn’t make up their minds if it should be a pickup or an SUV. On the back gate, there is a sticker that reads, “Pearl Harbor Survivor.” i certainly gave the owner a pass. He was due i thought.

Yesterday, i sat at the bar by myself with my club sandwich and a .394 (that’s an IPA made by the local brewery Alesmith honoring Tony Gwynn for his batting average, the year he would have matched Ted Williams except the players union had a strike) having a nice conversation with the young bartender about Nashville, where she had visited in February. An older gentleman in a golf cap comes up with an empty wine glass in his hand.

“Another chardonnay?” she asked, already reaching for the bottle.

“Yes,” he said and smiled at her. He was slow of gait but alert, had to be well into his nineties. Alone. He took his wine and walked back to his table. Later, he returned for one more glass of chardonnay.

i recognized he was the owner of the truck. It seemed a little awkward to introduce myself. i didn’t even catch his name. Now after reading the article about Frank Manchel, i plan to go back to the Bonita Golf Club until i see that whatever-it-is with the sticker on the back is there, and go find the owner. i want to have a long talk with him and thank him.

Back to Frank, i also could not help but think of my father’s comment i turned into a poem and is posted below (again). i’m glad Frank went out the way he did, honored, provided a tribute to his service, going quick. The way to go.

Going Quick

Two men, father and son,
hunched over a work bench
a number of years ago;
working on a project quietly
in the glare of the naked bulb
hanging above their heads;
they talked a bit,
focusing on the task at hand,
smiling quietly at the bond
they continued to build;
the old man with thick strong hands said,
“You know, son,
i’ve led a pretty good life,
got three good kids who have grown up well,
some good grandchildren, and
your mother;
‘bout the only thing I hope now
is when I go,
it’ll be quick.”

My father did go quick. He was in that war also, in far away places like New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Philippines.

A final note: i did a Google search for the attack on Pearl Harbor. i searched for “Day of Infamy.” The majority of the hits, including the first one were for a video game of that name. Sad. Downright sad.  Somehow we seem to have lost our balance, our perspective on what is important. We have a way to go.

i’m glad Mr. Manchel went the way he did. Thank you, sir, for your service.

And thank you, James Busby and Gary McCaughey for your posts about Frank Manchel.

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