Monday, May 26, 2008

Day one hundred and forty nine ... In memoriam.

I'm not what you would call the military type.

Those who know me are probably chuckling right about now.

I was in college back during the first Gulf War and remember feeling like quite the perfect specimen for service. I was young, strong, slim, and if you had asked my girlfriend at the time, single.

Since then I've been pretty much on my way to the bottom of the "desirable" list as far as the military is concerned. I never liked work, I was never good at doing push-ups, and I've seen enough of the world at this point to not let the allure of traveling to foreign lands entice me.

But I live in an age where more people disagree over the righteousness of war than ever before.

Life was a bit different back in 1941. 

Meet my great uncles.

Here are the twins, Paul and Peter.

Paul, above, was a navigator in the Air Force. Peter, below, was a bombardier.

This is Eddie Machnik.

Eddie was in the Merchant Marines. My aunt tells me that Eddie, during WW2, had the harrowing experience of escaping, multiple times, from liberty ships which had sunk right underneath him. I was unaware what Merchant Marines did until today. From what I'm told, the Merchant Marine is the fleet of ships which carries imports and exports during peacetime, and becomes a Naval auxiliary during wartime to deliver troops and war material. Sounds like a pretty hairy delivery job to me. Bad neighborhoods take on a whole new meaning.

This here is Daniel.

He's a Navy boy, through and through; he looks like a fun kind of guy. That cocky smile makes me think he would be a person you'd want on your side when the shit hits the fan--whether in a barroom or on a detail.

Man, people just look different in photos from long ago. It was so much more of a special occurrence--having your picture taken--almost a privileged ritual. I love the way people took a portrait pose seriously, so as to say, "this is a time consuming process and I want to look my absolute best if the photographer is going to have to spend an hour or so developing the damn thing." 

I, on the other hand, took pictures of a fish today, just because it looked funny. Immediately following that I photographed the food I was about to eat. Not so much of a privileged ritual I suppose. But we get our kicks a bit differently than even people half our age--damn Milennials. Spoiled little brats. They'll get theirs ... which would be the $125 an hour they charged me to fix my damn computer last year.

I try to spot little similarities in facial features when I look at these pictures. I see we have the same ears. Right about level with the eyes they have a tiny flare. Not too much, just enough to say, "I'm listening, that's what I do best." I never noticed a uniqueness to my ears until I was sitting in Berlin with my cousin Andrew who I hadn't seen in years. Dan Richardson, the Young at Heart Chorus' soundman, was sitting next to us and said. "You guys have the same ears." 

And so we did--and still do.

And then we come to Freddy.

Freddy was the youngest of the brothers. He was given to my babush, by her mother, after a slew of previous boys and told, "this one is yours." Naturally, he and my babush had a strong bond. After my babush had my mother, Freddie wrote every week and sent special wishes back to the new baby.

For that reason I was given his name.

As you can see, there is a gold star at the bottom of his photo. 

Freddie Machnik, an Air Force pilot, was shot down over the South Pacific in 1942 and was killed. The gold star is to signify that he was killed while serving his country.

The story of Freddie Machnik's death, passed down to me by my mother, from her mother, is a remarkable one.

It is said that, one day in 1942, my babush (my grandmother) went to visit her mother in Taunton. When she arrived, her mother, Anna Machnik, was crying.

When my babush questioned her, she told her that she had had a terrible dream. She had dreamt that Freddie was shot down by an enemy plane. It was a vivid, horrific dream, in which she claimed to have seen the incident occur and could remember the exact layout of the land below him. 

She believed it to be an omen.

Later that week, an Air Force officer arrived, in full uniform, and handed Anna Machnik a telegram informing her of Freddie's death. 

The telegraph confirmed that he indeed had been shot down on the same night Anna had experienced the terrible dream.

When the body was brought to Taunton, the Honor Guard who accompanied it had also been a member of Freddie's squadron; he had been flying that night alongside him. Anna spoke with the officer and asked him questions regarding the course of events that fateful night.

The story goes that the details matched up to the dream she had had almost exactly.

Sometimes we need a more hallowed name for the coincidences we cannot, and need not understand fully. 

Freddy, and Eddie, and Danny, and Peter, and Paul, (as well as my first uncle, Alex, who I will spend more time on in future installments) all served the great country we live in and have passed on to the next world.

They did what they felt was right and just to make their family proud and to honor their homeland. 

To them I bid a good night, and a fond farewell.

You are missed today by some who never even knew you.

Thanks for reading.


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