He was waiting for Ed Vincent, the last of his crew still alive. Ed’s flight had gotten diverted coming through Chicago and was still on his way, but my grandfather didn’t know any of that. At 90, your first guess if your friend doesn’t arrive on time isn’t that their flight was delayed—it’s that they might have died. Understandably, Grandpa was anxious, and the joy of seeing the other ten or so veterans soon dimmed. He wanted to stay and wait rather than go to dinner. Even when he was convinced to come, his appetite was noticeably lacking.
Ed came late that night and they saw each other the next day. It’s one thing to run into an old, good friend. But I suppose it’s something quite different to have fought and survived with that same friend in the greatest war the world ever saw. Grandpa never loved talking about the war until he got together with Ed. They somehow kept the pain at bay. Or maybe they understood it together enough to carry each other through the memory. The next two days in the city Ed and Grandpa were joined at the hip. Catching up and reminiscing. Ed’s wife had passed away and he remarried almost immediately—at age 90. Grandpa said that he was that kind of a guy. That he needed a companion.
Friday night all the vets gathered to tell us stories from the war. They kept it light (as light as they could, I suppose, when death was everywhere). Light or not, it still made my life seem absurdly meaningless. Strange how they fought to preserve my life, but the weight of the fighting took the weight from my life. Grandpa once told me when he was on a mission Japanese flak flew through the glass and just glanced his face. He was frozen from the fear when he heard a clear loud voice saying, “Don’t be afraid.” He said he asked the others if they had heard anything. They hadn’t.
Saturday Ed and Grandpa were thick as thieves. We went on a short tour of the harbor and went to lunch. Neither cared where we went or what we were doing, so long as they spent their little time together, together. That night we honored them still more, still not enough. Someone had gone to Tinian and brought back a piece of the runway these men knew too well. Grandpa was smiling.
Maybe when they fought a part of all of us was reborn. I’ll never get to die the way their friends died. I’ll never get to die the way they’ll die. But maybe if I live that way, it could be worth it. We left the next morning after prayer. Ed said he couldn’t make it next year; grandpa said he might not go.