Gregory Tomlinson stretched out on the top bunk, smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes, watching the cloudy vapors swirl around the dimly lit corner of his berth on the U.S.S. Arizona. Some of the guys exchanged letters and snacks from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their wireless radios saying “This news is a bore! Turn it off and find some Glenn Miller!” And the men all laughed like boys at summer camp.
“Hey, Gregory” whispered Leo Becker from the lower bunk. “Can I ask you a question?”
Gregory chuckled. “I think after eleven months trapped in this can you can ask me anything!”
Leo hesitated for a second then said “Ok, here goes. How come you never get any mail?
Gregory didn’t answer and Leo could have kicked himself. Lighting another cigarette, Gregory inhaled deeply and blew a precise smoke ring.
Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing perfectly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.”
Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon is your friend?? With your Tyrone Power charm and good looks you probably have a girl in every port! All I have is this box of letters and photos from home.”
“Ha!” snorted Gregory. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Your box is very special, Leo; even if I had a box I’d have nothing to put in it. When I was 15, my parents were killed in a car crash and I was left alone – a family of one. No siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – no one. I took off and made the Navy my family.”
“Now I have a question for you, Leo” said Gregory nonchalantly. “How many nights have we sat on your bunk poring over the contents of this box?”
Leo rubbed his chin thoughtfully, mumbling “eleven months, 30 or 31 nights give or take a few here or there .. I’d say between 330 and 345” Leo calculated.
“How many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he held Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, nonplussed. Gregory continued “How you said “hi” to her the day you were painting the chancery and knocked over a can of paint. You said she had the sweetest disposition.” Gregory sighed. “You said she didn’t get mad or anything – how you really liked her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories, Leo? Because I felt all alone but now I felt like I had two friends, you and Jenny.”
Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, followed repeatedly by non-stop bombings and eruptions. The Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. Leo quickly stashed his stuff into his backpack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The torpedo attack lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker.
Upon Gregory’s medical discharge, he was called to the admiral’s office and handed a box which he recognized immediately as Leo’s. Gregory’s name was written on an envelope attached to the box. When he opened it he found a letter inscribed “To my dear friends Jenny Warner and Gregory Tomlinson – Open this box together. Gregory, I wish you could have seen your face light up whenever I talked about Jenny. And Jenny … you must have asked about Gregory in every letter you wrote to me. If ever two people belong together it’s you. I love you both and you two love each other, too – even though you haven’t met yet. You belong together.”
A smaller note was also enclosed in the envelope; it read: “Gregory, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this note. It will make me eternally happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other.”
NAR © 2020