U.S.S. ARIZONA

Author’s Note: It’s funny sometimes how things unfold. I was talking with a friend last night about navy and submarine movies, how much we both enjoy watching them and offering each other suggestions for a few good films. Then I came across another friend’s post – Fandango’s One-Word Challenge (FOWC). The required word was “stodgy” – not your everyday kind of word. I wondered if I’d used that word in any of my past stories so I did a quick search and “U.S.S. Arizona” popped up – a story about, of all things, a navy battleship! It’s funny sometimes how things unfold.

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 treats from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their 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 perfect smoke ring. 

Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing seamlessly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.” 

Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon, am 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.”  

“I have a question for you, Leo” Gregory continued 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. 

And how many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he stared at Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, unsure. Gregory stopped to light another smoke. “You told me how you said “hi” to Jenny the day you were painting her office at the school and she said “hi” back and smiled. You said you got lost in her eyes and you knocked over a can of paint! She had the sweetest disposition and didn’t get mad, even when the stodgy principal went nuts over the spilled paint.” Gregory sighed. “You said how you really started liking her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories about Jenny, Leo? Because I felt all alone but hearing you talk like that made me feel like I had two friends – you and Jenny.” 

Leo barely had a chance to get his thoughts together when there was an enormous explosion, followed by continuous bombings and eruptions. Pearl Harbor was under attack. Leo quickly stashed his belongings into his knapsack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The attack on the Arizona lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker. 

Upon Gregory’s medical discharge from the navy, he was summoned by his commanding officer 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 the envelope he found a letter with an inscription:

“To my dear friend Gregory. I wish you could have seen how your face lit up whenever I talked about Jenny. You clung to every word I said. I never told you this but Jenny asked about you in every letter she wrote to me. Truth is, she was much more interested in you than she was in me. But you know what? That’s OK. If ever there were two people who belong together it’s you and Jenny. I love you both and you two love each other, too, even though you haven’t even met yet. Don’t waste another minute, Gregory.
You belong with Jenny and she belongs with you.”

Gregory’s eyes welled up with tears and he could barely make out the last few sentences. Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, he read on:

My friend, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this letter. It will make me so happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other. Don’t forget your old pal, Leo.

Gregory tucked Leo’s box under his arm and picked up his knapsack. He walked down the hallway and spotted a bank of telephone booths. He stared at Leo’s letter for about three seconds before reaching for the phone.

NAR © 2020

Reposted for Fandango’s #FOWC http://fivedotoh.com/2023/01/14/fowc-with-fandango-stodgy/