It’s episode 3 of When Fact Met Fiction.
Mel has staged a photo of a bikini for the story that accompanies Poppy Stanhope’s Banana Split Pudding With Praline Sauce. But there was no bikini mentioned in the story so why is there one in the photo display? ” I didn’t have time to order a coconut bra…” is Mel’s reply.
This story ended up being significantly longer than most of Jon Frank’s articles. So settle in for a bit and lose yourself in the South pacific during WW II. As one of Poppy’s fans would say, “It is like Nathaniel Embers wrapped himself around one of her recipes and made me fall in love all over again.” Get ready to fall in love with Tarzan and the W.A.S.P.
Tarzan and The W.A.S.P.
By Jon Frank
There is always that one uncle, you know? The guy that tells the most amazing stories. Stories too fantastical to believe and yet you don’t care because the tale is just too good. My Uncle Pete was that guy. He served in WWII in the South Pacific, and after the war continued to work for the government all through the Cold War years up until he died in the early Eighties. My brothers, cousins and I called him the Candy Man because he brought us treats any time he was in town to visit our grandmother. But what set Uncle Pete apart most was the stories. Uncle Pete had a story for every situation. If you saw a fire, he saw an explosion. If you rode in an airplane, he built one out of bamboo and flew it and six men out of a prison camp to safety. If you had a scar, he had given a man a worse one. And if you met a girl – well, here’s that story.
Our grandmother lived in a massive two-story house, and when Uncle Pete was in town, that’s where he would stay. The rest of our huge family would gather to meet him there and he would regale us with his latest exploits. In addition to his stories, Uncle Pete was famous for his Banana Split Pudding with Praline sauce. Man, it was the best tasting thing to ever hit the planet. One bite would literally blow your plaid bell bottoms off and straighten your disco hair.
It was during one of his visits in 1976 when I first heard of The Girl. My cousin Wayne and I had just come back from a huge Fourth of July picnic in downtown Black Mountain, North Carolina. We were twelve years old and had only just begun to discover girls ourselves. We had spent the day flush with the excitement of seeing girls walking around in crop tops and cutoffs and were only too eager to keep the edge going. Wayne said he knew where some dirty magazines might be hidden and I was anxious and intrigued to say the least.
Everyone was either in the back yard talking or enjoying Uncle Pete’s pudding. Wayne and I slipped away and out to the old storage shed at the end of the property. Inside were the usual Christmas stuff and old dress mannequin things, but the item Wayne and I sought was Uncle Pete’s old footlocker. Wayne’s thoughts were sound and logical: Uncle Pete was military, and all Navy guys had dirty magazines and such. I concurred.
There was no lock on the chest and we grinned together in heated anticipation. I cracked the lid open and we were blasted with odors of dust and dry paper goods. The chest was not your typical G.I. footlocker. It was some four-by-six, big enough to hide a body if the need arose. It had two levels consisting of two removable trays on top and a deep space underneath. Every inch of the thing was filled with memorabilia that would probably be worth a fortune nowadays. The two trays contained old Navy documents that held little interest to us since we wanted to get to the good stuff. Sadly, the closest thing we found to girly mags were a few pinup post cards and some old photographs. But as we dug, my cousin and I found ourselves drawn in by the contents. Some of the photos were of fellow sailors, ships and equipment, but some were of burned structures and other horrors of war. Stunned, we fingered the cracked pictures and occasionally looked up at each other and shook our heads. We were so enthralled we failed to notice someone else had entered the shed until Uncle Pete cleared his throat.
“You boys are in trouble.”
Only twice in my life was I so scared I nearly wet myself. This was one of those times. I see now I have failed to properly introduce you to the sheer physicality of Uncle Pete. He was a staggeringly powerful man even then, in his fifties. He was an avid swimmer and athlete, the poster image of what recruitment posters wanted a sailor to be. His jaw was square with a cleft chin, and his forehead sported a perfect widow’s peak. I had never in my entire life seen a serious look on Uncle Pete’s face until that moment, burning us both down with a clenched jaw and flared nostrils. Wayne and I looked at each other. He was starting to cry. We both muttered, “Sorry, Uncle Pete.”
Then Uncle Pete let loose with the loudest laugh I have ever heard, which in turn produced the second moment of my near and present urination.
He walked over, slapped us both on our backs, then rubbed our necks vigorously.
“What’d you find? Nudies?” He asked, guessing our hormone-driven intentions. “Nah. I got rid of that stuff years ago. My ma would never let me keep that here. But there’s still a bunch of good stuff if you look hard enough. Let’s see.”
He reached in and began sorting through things with us. He briefly touched the horror photos, as we would later call them. “You boys don’t need to be looking at this stuff. Ain’t good for you.” He tucked them into his breast pocket and continued the rummaging.
We were amazed at how casually he handled some things – like his numerous medals, including a navy cross. Other things, like a small piece of a hair ribbon and a tiny Bible, he held gingerly like a tiny, fragile bird. I reached in and pulled out a nondescript shoe box. It was partially wrapped in brown shipping paper and tied with twine. It must have had a dozen stamps and water stains from sometime in the past.
Uncle Pete reached for the box. “Here, let me have that one, son. That’s very special. That’s the one I came out here to get when I found you.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Oh, you don’t want to hear that story, boy. It’s all mushy and stuff.”
“Come on, Uncle Pete!” Wayne begged. “You tell the best stories! Please?”
“Well, all right. But don’t you laugh.”
We both shook our heads and crossed our hearts. Then we pulled up some old lawn chairs and settled in as Uncle Pete closed the trunk and took a seat. “It was Summer, 1944 . . .”
Now I’ve told you boys how both your mamas called me Tarzan when I was a boy. They called me that because I can swim like nobody’s business. But I’ll tell you this, and it’s a true story. I was in the hospital pool walking around trying to strengthen my leg when this giant of a guy strolls up with a small entourage of doctors, officers, and young pretties. Lo and behold, if isn’t the real Tarzan himself, Johnny Weissmuller! He was touring about trying to cheer up the troops and sailors and such. Well, Mr. Tarzan strolls right to the side of the pool and peers down at me. He starts asking what I’m doing and there’s these photographers taking his picture and the like. I explain I’m trying to strengthen my leg muscles by swimming. He said it didn’t look like I was doing too much swimming at the moment. I laughed and said I wasn’t quite up to the good stuff yet.
Ol’ Johnny puts his hand down in the water and splashes about a bit. “You know,” he says,”I got hurt filming once when I came down off an elephant wrong and wrenched my leg badly. I spent some time in the pool myself to heal it. I learned a neat stroke to help. Here, I’ll show you.”
With that, Ol’ Tarzan kicks off his brogans, jerks off his jacket, and jumps in right beside me and shows me how to do it. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. Oh, sorry boys. Don’t tell your mamas I cursed, okay? Good. Well, he and I hit it off real good and we even joked about how my sisters used to call me Tarzan. Of course I could never do the yell quite like Johnny could.
After my stint in the hospital I was given a special assignment. You see, we’d been surprised by Pearl Harbor, and the Navy was never going to be taken like that again. So some admiral or other high muckety-muck decided having a series of men set alone and secret along several islands from here to Japan was a wise idea, and it was. Boys, there must be a thousand small islands that are not much bigger than Black Mountain. A sailor could set up with a radio and some binoculars and get the jump on the Japs before they got to us.
So, I was set out on this island that was maybe two miles long and a mile across. It was surrounded by a vicious coral reef which made it near impossible for any water craft to approach safely. The only way in was by parachute or a seaplane that could land inside the lagoon – and you’d have to be a mighty da. . .er, darn good pilot to do that. So essentially, they sent me to war to have a vacation in the tropics.
Every few weeks, they’d send a plane over and drop some supplies like food and radio parts cause sea air plays hell on components. I had to be on the lookout because they were never on a schedule of any kind and there was always the thought of someone intercepting my transmissions and getting a triangulation on me. They used a PBY 3, which was not the quietest of planes so most of the time I heard her long before the cargo dropped.
Well, one time one of my radio’s main tubes had blown and I went to replace it, only to find out the tubes they had sent as spares were all the wrong size. It was no big deal at the time because the plane was due any day and I just had to hope the Japs wouldn’t choose to invade until then. Anyways, I had resolved to just relax and maybe get some R&R so I headed down to the beach to hit a few golf balls into the surf. Oh, yeah. One thing I had plenty of was golf balls. One of my drops had gotten mixed up with some captain’s or admiral’s and I had gotten a nice set of clubs and about five hundred golf balls. The crate was marked Top Secret with all these fancy numbers that were supposed to mean eyes-only or something.
I was just about to beat Bobby Jones in Augusta when I heard the familiar sound of the PBY. I scanned the east and could just make out her silhouette. The PBY is a very distinctive bird. She has what’s called a parasol wing design, meaning the fuselage is suspended beneath the wing and connected by a pylon in the middle. She’s a tremendous water landing craft with excellent long range. As the PBY drew closer, I shaded my eyes and noticed she had smoke trailing behind and the sound of the motor didn’t sound so good either. The plane dropped low and was making the approach to land. Problem was, it wouldn’t clear the reef. I started running and stripping off my shirt, hitting the water in full stride, hoping maybe I could get to the pilot before it sank. That is, if it didn’t explode.
I crossed the lagoon in record time but the plane was already making contact with the reef by the time I was halfway through. Whoever the pilot was, he was damn good at his job. He had managed to keep the plane from nosing in and going into a flip, but the outriggers on the wings caught some projections under the surf. Both wings tore back into a W, and the whole shebang began to spin clockwise like a car on ice until its belly crunched up on the larger section of the reef. Smoke boiled out the engines, both of which had somehow remained tenuously attached to the pylon. I poured on the speed, stroke after stroke. I’m a good swimmer but I had never had to drive like I was doing. My lungs hurt, my shoulders burned, but I didn’t see the pilot bale and I had to make the effort as much for my own conscience as for the pilot’s life.
I reached the reef just as the twin engines burst into flames. I knew I had seconds before the fuel would ignite. Already the surf was kicking up flaming oil and fuel and would soon overwhelm me. I tore my hands and feet apart on the coral as I climbed up. The cockpit door was open and I could see the pilot was unconscious. I had no time to grab a life jacket so I just popped the seat belt and drug him out.
Or I should say, her. The pilot was a woman! But I didn’t have time to be shocked, and I drug her from the wreckage and down into the surf. I turned over on my back and held her in a rescue hold. I was actually thankful she was out. See, it made swimming easier that she couldn’t struggle. I began slowly paddling back. I wasn’t really sure she was even breathing. When we finally made it to the beach, I put my ear to her mouth. She was breathing, but still out. I flopped down next to her, put my hands over my head, shielded my eyes against the sun and passed out from exhaustion.
When I woke, she was still there, but she was sitting up looking out over the lagoon at the wreckage. I sat up quickly.
“You the moke that pulled me out of that?” she said.
It took me moment to realize she was actually speaking to me. She was, to say the least, stunning. She turned her full face to me and it was like glancing at the sun. I had to look away. I nodded and finally got the courage to look back. “Pete. Chief Pete McKennon.”
“Well, Pete-Chief Pete Mckennon, I guess I owe you my life. I’m Laura Stuyvesant, former pilot of your supply drop.”
She looked back forlornly at the still smoking wreckage. “How long before the tide takes her away?” she asked.
“Not long,” I replied. “Tide starts about five and surges up pretty quick. Don’t worry too much though, the reef there is pretty high so it may stay for a while. Which actually presents a problem. We’ll have to clear it so the Japanese patrols won’t see it,” I explained. “But let’s not worry about that just now. Are you okay? You took quite a hit to the noggin there.”
“Yeah, fine, thanks to you. Can’t say much for your cargo though. Hope it wasn’t anything important.”
“Well, as a matter of fact…” I started to say. “Nah,” I replied instead. “Nothing that couldn’t wait another week.”
“That’s good,” she said, “because this was my last run for a few weeks.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, they don’t tell us moxies much, but the scuttle is there’s a big push planned west in the China Sea. It’s one of the reasons I get to fly. They don’t want to waste good men on little nothing runs like this. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to imply. . .”
I told her it was okay. Truth is, she could’ve punched me square in the face and I still would’ve been enthralled. She stood up and I finally got a good clear look at her. She was wearing heavy wool men’s coveralls. She was long and curvy. I thought she should be painted on the side of an aircraft, not flying one. The evening wind was just picking up and it began to blow her light blonde hair around in wisps. She had sea-green eyes and Kewpie doll lips.
“Come on,” I said, “let’s get you warmed up and dry.” She nodded and we made our way back to my little shack in the jungle.
My “house” was placed just at the base of the only high point on the island. I had run the antenna up a big old palm to hide it and the shack itself was hidden from view by dense jungle foliage.
We were soon in my happy bachelor abode. I offered her a clean shirt and bell bottoms, which she took readily. I apologized for the lack of privacy and stepped outside. I lit a cigarette and stared out and down the island and then across the sea.
“Wow,” I thought, “did I find a magic lamp or something?” Here I was, on my tiny island kingdom, a lonely – but actually content – guy. And lo and behold suddenly the sky dumps a gorgeous woman literally in my lap. Oh sure, she’d be going back soon, but what could it hurt for a man to dream, right?
In a moment she emerged and set my chest flaming again. My shirt had never looked so good, as well as fairly tasked to contain the treasures she possessed. The trousers fared better but only just fit over those flared hips. “Are those okay? Sorry I can’t offer anything else,” I managed to stammer out.
“They’re fine. It’s not like you were expecting company, especially a woman. We W.A.S.P.s are used to wearing man’s clothes, since they don’t make duty uniforms for women. I’m so glad to be out of those sopping wool overalls. However, unless you want to go and carve out some coconuts, I have to hang my dainties up to dry.” I blushed at the thought and showed her where the clothesline was.
We sat on the steps of my small shack and ate some C-rations. I again apologized for my lack of proper accommodations. “You’ll have to forgive us, madam, but our wine cellar is sorely lacking in proper vintages.”
“Of course, but it will reflect poorly in my review of your establishment,” she laughed, and my heart melted further.
After dinner we smoked and enjoyed small Navy talk, neither one of us particularly interested in the current situation of her downed plane and my lack of radio parts. We just seemed to click, you know? She was witty and smart and well-educated in contrast to my course, country-college boy ways. I could say I was in love, sure, but it seemed more. I started feeling complete, like something had been missing all my life and here it was, sitting across from me in my shirt and trousers, smoking my cigarettes with her perfect mouth.
Then a memory dawned on me and I had to ask. “Hey, Stuyvesant. I saw an airshow in California around ’37. They had a family of wing walkers in it named Stuyvesant. Any relation?”
“Yep. That’d be my mother and I. We were the Flying Stuyvesants, queens of the air. My father was a pilot in the Great War and he taught me, my sister, and my mother how to fly. I could work a stick before I could drive a car. My mother was called a flying flapper in the Twenties. She would get up there and dance the Charleston in her heyday. When my sister and I came along, we just kind of fell into the business.”
“They still fly?” I asked. “I mean, do they fly at home or does your sister do what you’re doing in the W.A.S.P.s?”
She flicked her cigarette butt away and blew out a long stream of smoke. “No, she died a year before the war. Her fella got drunk one night and accused her of cheating on him. Shot her twice, realized what he had done and tried to run, stumbled into the street, and caught the bus with his face.” She looked up at the clear, night sky and stood up.
“Hey, sorry I asked. I didn’t mean. . .”
“No, it’s okay, really. We tried to warn her. Thing is, she probably would have died anyway. My father crashed the plane less than a year later and killed him and my mother.”
“Wow, yeah. I had forgotten that. I read it in the paper. I’m sorry, kiddo. I’m just pouring lemon juice in your wounds, ain’t I?”
“No, I’m fine. I’ve dealt with it. Flying really helps me with it. Although, that will be a long time coming now,” she said looking again through the jungle in the direction of the beach. She shook her head and turned quickly to me, “Got any kind of dessert in those rations?”
“Not really, I usually get some fresh fruit from my supplier, but she seems to be running behind this week,” I smiled at her.
“Sorry about that, I had a load of bananas for you too.”
“Bananas? I haven’t had one in a long time. You’d think being in the tropics, they’d be in every jungle, but these places only have coconuts and breadfruit. If there are bananas you have to cook the devil out of them. Man, I’d kill for some good banana pudding.”
“Banana pudding? Well, you are in luck, sailor. You are sitting in the presence of the premier and elite of all banana-pudding makers. I have a recipe for a banana split pudding with praline sauce. If you’re good and behave yourself, maybe I’ll make you some and bring it back on my next trip.”
My heart soared. Next trip. It meant she was coming back, but it also meant I would have to let her go in the first place. I wasn’t prepared for that yet.
That night Laura slept on my cot and I strung up a hammock on the porch. Thankfully, my little island was mostly devoid of flying insects and the only real nuisance was the occasional sand flea.
I awoke at first light and performed my morning scans of the horizon. I had crept into the shack to procure my log books and struggled mightily to not sneak a peek at Laura on my bunk. I made it almost to the door when she began to stir. “What time is it?” she said groggily.
“About five. Go back to sleep, I’ll make breakfast in a bit.” It seemed so surreal to me, almost like actually being really with someone. That face. That beautiful face. What I would have given to just be able to wake up to her face every morning for the rest of my life.
Now boys, I prided myself on my self-sustainability. I had a fresh water supply I collected from the evening rain, as well as a cistern I had made from some barrels. I also had chickens I had brought in as chicks which now provided me with daily eggs. I even placed extra golf balls under the hens to get them to lay. I am proud to say my little flock of hens were the best layers on the whole island.
So after morning duties I collected about six eggs and fixed us a good solid breakfast. After eating we acknowledged the need to get serious about the downed-plane situation, though neither of us seemed to want to put much effort into it. I explained what I needed to fix the radio and she thought some of those things were probably in her drop cargo, but in all likelihood it was at the bottom of the sea, or at the least smashed and soaked. I asked her what kind of radio she had on the plane, and she said she had the standard GO9 – but again, it was probably smashed to bits in the crash. That is, if the plane was even still on the reef.
We got our answers when we hit the beach that morning. The plane was still on the reef, and by the looks of it wasn’t going anywhere soon. My next question should have come earlier. “Won’t they be missing you? I mean, wouldn’t they send another plane?”
“Here?” she replied. “No, not for a while. I make several hops like this one and with all the confusion of the upcoming offensives, they wouldn’t notice for weeks. I guess you’re stuck with me, handsome.”
I felt a blush from the top of my head to my wiggly little toes. “Yeah, I guess so, but I still have a mission. Do you swim?”
“Oh, I can stay afloat. But as you can tell,” she gestured with her hands, “I’m not exactly built for it.”
I wasn’t going to argue with that. I kicked off my shoes and waded out towards the surf. “Be right back.” I stopped, turned around and handed her my service pistol. “Any good with one of these? Sharks, you know.”
“I can manage,” she chuckled.
I dove into the surf and began my swim. It was easier going, not being pressed for time or carrying her exquisite extra weight. Soon I was at the reef and able to more carefully climb up onto it, avoiding the razor sharp edges. The plane was a mangled mess. It bobbed somewhat in the water, but I could see it was now a permanent addition to the reef. To move it would take explosives or a piece-by-piece dismantling, neither of which I currently had the patience to undertake. The tail section was mostly submerged, but the nose was holding on like a desperate cliffhanger. I climbed back through the cockpit canopy, not bothering with the waist doors. Inside, debris floated all about but fortunately all the fuel had burned off and enough of the plane’s integrity remained to keep any dangerous predators out. I made my way to the radio and confirmed it was smashed beyond repair. I plunged my hands beneath the water and felt around until I found what I was looking for: the radioman’s repair bag. I located a few tools and popped off the cover of the GO9. I knew what tubes I needed and I took some of those and a few others for spares. Funny thing, though, the headset was sitting just as pretty as can be, still on its hook. It was nicer than my set and still had good ear pads. I found a map tube floating in the water, pulled the map out, and dropped the radio tubes in. There was no way to keep the headset dry, but it was pretty durable, and if cleaned of salt and allowed to dry, it should be fine I thought. I glanced around and found a few more small things, but couldn’t figure a way at the moment to carry them back. I took some radio wire, made a sling, and put the tube around me.
She was waiting on the beach for me, like I had just gone for a quick dip. “Did you get it?”
“I think so. Let’s go find out.” We made our way up the beach, but neither one of us in a hurry. Somewhere along the way our hands found themselves entwined. We made it to the shack and I reluctantly let her hand go. I noticed her hand went back slowly as well. “I’ll put these at the radio and see if I can’t scare up some grub.”
“Please, let me do that. I’m not such a bad cook if you’ll give me a try. It won’t be banana pudding, but it will be edible.” I nodded and sat down to repair the radio.
She lied. I have never tasted C rations so badly mangled. Of course I said it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted and she called me out on it. “Liar! You’re just saying that. Oh, it is bad, isn’t it? Ewww! What was I thinking?”
“I don’t know, but it looks like I’ll have to be the cook in the family.”
I immediately realized what I had said, but either she didn’t notice or maybe she did and accepted it. Family? Us? Cheese and crackers, I’d just met the girl and I’m picking out names for our kids already.
The radio worked perfectly, so I got a signal off to the Rook, that’s what the main HQ for us islanders was called. My call sign was Kingfisher, which Laura thought was appropriate considering my swimming ability. Laura had been correct in her assessment of the next plane’s arrival. It would be an indeterminate amount of time so we would just have to wait it out and make our daily reports. I felt my heart leap.
“Well, sailor, looks like you just hit the jackpot,” she said and draped herself over a chair suggestively.
Now despite what you boys may think of your old Uncle Pete, I was a good boy. Your grandma and grandpa raised us all right. You have to believe that nothing happened between us. . .well, not nothing. . . but anyhow, over the next few days, we made do, rationed our supplies, and arranged the shack to accommodate us both just like she was another sailor. We took turns at lookout and the radio while I, of course, did all the cooking. Soon we had us a neat little house with regular laundry days and meals, followed by music from AFRS and an evening smoke. I would sing in my best tenor and she was a fantastic soprano.
Once we were singing to Dorsey’s Take Me, and when she got to the last line of “make me your own,” I leaned over and kissed her. I tell you, boys, I have never, ever been kissed like that before or since. When we finished, I think I could have swum to Japan and whipped Hirohito and the whole Imperial Navy myself. I would have done anything for her. But remember, I was raised right. We said our good-nights and went to our separate little “rooms”.
In the morning I made cursory lookout reports and scans of the horizon. I wasn’t paying much attention though, thinking instead of the kiss. I wanted to walk back into the shack and not be a good boy. I was struggling with it when something caught the corner of my eye. It was small and distant, but it was there. I took the glasses and looked again. Smoke. Not much. The ship was trolling at low speed but definitely heading this way. Fortunately it was on the opposite side of the reef and wouldn’t be able to see the plane unless it went around, which I’m sure it would do. I ran to Laura’s area and flung back the curtain. She jumped at the sound but kept her composure. “What is it?’ She gasped.
“Patrol boat. We have to get the plane off the reef.”
“How? You said yourself it would take explosives to release it and they would surely hear that. There’s no way we can avoid them seeing it.”
I looked around the room and spied an idea. “Maybe they should see it.”
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“Just follow me and grab that crate of grenades. I hope we have time for this.” I also grabbed two hollowed-out coconuts we had jokingly made a few nights before.
Down at the shore I found the crate of golf balls, set it to one side, and got to work. Taking apart several grenades, I emptied their contents into one of the coconut halves. I punched a small hole in the other half and wrapped both halves with radio wire until they were solidly bound together. I filled the hollow coconut up the rest of the way, emptying about eight grenades into it. Then I carefully inserted a firing pin and set the makeshift bomb aside.
Meanwhile, Laura was tasked with collecting all loose golf balls she could find of the original five hundred and returning them to the crate. I must have gotten pretty bored in my solo time, as Laura was able to refill the crate only about two-thirds. So she packed the remaining space with sea shells, sticks, rocks or any other debris she could gather. I placed my improvised bomb into the crate, running a wire to attach the firing pin to the lid. Then I carefully nailed it down and set the whole rig afloat in the surf.
“Kiss for luck, sailor,” Laura said as she pressed her body to mine and laid on me the second-best kiss ever, boys.
I towed the crate out to the reef. Now you might be thinking golf balls sink, right? Well they won’t in salt water and definitely not in a sealed crate. However, once again I was in a race against time that sorely pressed my swimming ability. I was thankful Ol’ Johnny’s tips on rehabilitation had been spot on.
At the plane, I managed to wrestle the crate to the other side of the reef and wedge it under the mangled wing. It bobbed a bit but held without bumping into anything. I plunged back in and swam the hundred or so yards back to the beach. I grabbed Laura’s hand and we sprinted for the jungle.
The patrol boat made its way around the island about an hour later. I looked through the glasses, trying to spot anything distinctive in its markings. It appeared to be just a simple boat with a crew of maybe eight or so. I suspected they sported a radio comparable to ours with about the same range. Hopefully they would want to do a full inspection before radioing back. I imagined they wouldn’t want to be dishonored calling in an old wreck and wasting the time of their superiors.
We watched as the boat pulled in close, cautious of the reef itself. They lowered a small dinghy of about three men, two with oars and one with a rifle. They only took a few minutes to ascertain the craft to be kaput, and as I had hoped, they took the crate into the dinghy with them. Laura and I waited for what seemed like hours. I could see some movement on the boat and soon a man emerged from inside and stood with his hands on his hips. He gestured animatedly towards the shore and the subordinates bowed in response. When they stepped aside, however, he pointed at the crate and more buzzing activity occurred. One of the crew disappeared inside and for a few tense moments I didn’t know if my plan would work. I looked at Laura and shook my head.
We were just about to get up and leave when I looked back just in time to see and hear an explosion. Seconds later, we were visited by the sounds and zippings of dozens of golf balls bulleting through the jungle and caroming off the trees. One ball landed deeply in the sand just inches from our faces. I joked, “Bad lie, for the old boy. He’ll need a gap wedge to get out of this one.”
I took the glasses and peered back out at the ship. Smoke poured from where the men had been standing with the crate. The boat began to list and I saw no swimmers or further activity on the deck. Apparently, the whole crew had been on deck.
I made radio contact with the Rook again that day and they confirmed activity in the area. The island would be too hot for me now, and they would be sending a recovery plane the next day. I set the headset down and wiped my face.
Laura had gone outside to gather eggs and I found myself not wanting to tell her, afraid she would be disappointed – or even worse, relieved and excited. That part I didn’t think I would be able to take. We spent the rest of the day and evening making small talk about what we would do after the war. Laura was going straight back to flying and aeronautics, and I expected I would continue on with the government.
She did and I did.
Uncle Pete rubbed the box lovingly and, to our surprise and embarrassment, tears rolled down his cheeks. “After we returned to Port Moresby, I gave her my address here and she promised to write when she had a permanent one in California. After the war, I came home for a bit and found this package waiting for me at your grandma’s. I tried to write back but your grandpa took sick and I got called out to Norfolk for a bit.”
“What happened, Uncle Pete? Did you ever see her again?”
“No. I wrote to her from Washington about a month later and found out she had been killed by a drunk driver in ‘Frisco. S’funny huh? Woman flier like that makes it all the way home to be killed by some slob on the ground.”
“Sorry, Uncle Pete.
“S’okay boys, you didn’t know.” He sniffed and looked up at us. “Well, I guess you want to know what’s in the box.” He untied the twine and slid it off. He gingerly opened the box and pulled out the contents, two halves of a coconut strung together with a recipe for Banana Split Pudding with Praline Sauce pinned to it. A note attached said, “Come and see me, Tarzan, and bring these with you.”
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