DD-375 U.S.S. Downes, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941... Mid-morning...
“Jenkins….get your fucking head down!” Seaman First Class Pantangelo yelled as a round whizzed past the boy’s head and slammed into the empty cartridge pail, sending it flying off the deck and into the water below. The kid jumped sideways, nearly going over the edge until the strong hands of the older man grabbed his shirt collar, nearly ripping it off.
“Smitty and I got this gun… and Kowalski needs someone to feed him ammo…get yer ass up to the Bofors and help him out.”
The boy remained half-seated on the deck until the same hands that had saved him moments before pulled him off the deck and to his feet. A sudden shove was accompanied by a fatherly smile as he was pushed toward the other gun emplacement only yards away. He ran up the ladder and turned to wave to the older man when a burst of gunfire slammed into the deck just below and back down where he had been standing only moments before. He stood stock still, staring at the flying debris torn up off the deck by the gunfire and tried to peer through the haze.
“Hey….fuck it, kid…they’re gone.” The boy fought back bitter tears as a man behind him shouted.
“Get up here, kid….NOW!”
The boy turned around and saw the Bos’n waving frantically at him. He ran the last few yards and grabbed the ammo. He watched in paralyzing panic as another Jap plane strafed the decks of Cassin and the Pennsylvania; both in dry-dock next to the Downes, tearing up both ships before flying low over him and Kowalski. He could hear the shouts of the sailors aft of his location who watched a Zero catch fire just as it flew over the Downes. The plane held altitude long enough clear the ship, slamming into a gas truck sitting on the dock a hundred or so yards away from their slip. The plane and truck disintegrated in a ball of fire that engulfed a pile of supplies.
Kowalski turned around and breathed out a sigh. The attack appeared to be over. The fire crew was just now putting out the flames on the main deck, and the sounds of the hell surrounding them were dying down even as the smoke continued to billow all across the bay. He looked at his watch. 10:07 AM. He had been at it at this position alone for nearly two hours after manning another gun further forward.
“Hey, kid...you did good.”
He turned to smile in congratulation at the new recruit; the boy had only arrived at Pearl a few days before; barely out of boot camp. But the boy didn’t answer; he was flat on his back stretched out on the deck. Holes in his shoulder and leg bore witness to his silence. But the boy looked as peaceful as anything Kowalski had seen. He was smiling; his face was nestled on a cartridge belt and his eyes were focused on his service cap, which had fallen off his head, exposing his short dirty blond hair.
Kowalski looked around and noticed an almost eerie calm, as if the harbor was trying to quiet itself for the sake of the survivors of the attack. He noticed two things; a letter clutched in the boy’s hand and a picture pressed tight against the inside of the kid’s cap. He picked up the cap after gently removing the letter from the boy’s grasp. He looked quickly at the picture; a girl of about seventeen or so and her boyfriend, apparently, walking down a country lane; both were smiling. Kowalski shook his head and sighed before unfolding the letter.
April 12, 1941
I know you don’t feel like this will ever work. You don’t have to go away. You can still change your mind. Please think of us when you get this, please. I never knew just how much I loved you until you went away. My cousin moved to New Zealand last year to help my grandpa with the farm, and she says we can move there, okay? Just think about it. I miss you so much, and I wish you would just come home. We can work it out. I look forward to seeing you at Christmas. I love you so much! XOXOXO Love,
Kowalski looked again at the photo. The girl was what his grandmother might have called striking; her way of saying she could be prettier, but Darryl seemed to love the girl a lot; more than Kowalski could say about himself and his own girlfriend. He smiled, thinking at least that the girl would know her boyfriend had died helping to save his shipmates.
It was only then that he took a long hard look at the picture once again as his gaze went back and forth between the smiles in the photo and the angelic look on the boy's face. He stifled a sob as he shook his head before placing the photo under his own service cap, almost reverently. The letter was folded and inserted in the back pocket of his jeans.
Kowalski wasn’t a much of a regulation or spit and polish sailor; it took a lot to get him to feel connected to the century and a half plus traditions, but he bit his lip and saluted the boy before walking up the deck.
“Hey, McKenna?” Kowalski yelled as the chief walked up to the gun and blew out a relieved breath.
“Fuck, Kowalski, whatya want, a fucking medal.” Kowalski shook his head and then looked down at the fallen boy.
“Jesus and Mary, no….he’s just a fucking baby.”
The man began to weep; even in the midst the routine of horror, there are some things a grown man cannot abide, and the death of a child is one of them. McKenna had a son on the Raleigh, and he could only hope that his own boy made it out okay.
“That’s not all.”
Kowalski took his service cap off and showed the picture to the older man. McKenna looked at it and down at the body on the deck. He fought back tears as he knelt down. Speaking softly, he offered up a silent prayer, meaning to talk to the Padre as soon as possible for the boy’s last rites. And then he did something unheard of for a Chief Petty Officer, but perhaps entire
ly understandable for a father worried about his own child. He leaned further down and kissed the boy’s forehead. He stripped down to his tee and placed his shirt over the boy’s face, but not before gazing at the boy’s soft peaceful countenance.
“Hey, McKenna? XO wants to know about casualties? You got anybody hit?” A voice came from the deck above. Kowalski waved to the chief as if to say, ‘I’ve got this.’
“Pantangelo and Smitty at the gun over there took it for good,” he said, pointing down the deck.
“And just one here. Jenkins!” He stifled a sob.
“Who? Jenkins? Aw fuck!”
“We gotta have volunteers for duty here, and you two just volunteered.” The man above them laughed at the typical service humor, even more ironic in light of the fact that the men would have borne their mates with gladness. Looking down he shook his head and touched his chest with his palm as if to apologize before walking back down the deck. McKenna looked at Kowalski and the two nodded simultaneously; saluting the boy’s body as McKenna spoke one last time before bearing the boy away in solemn silence.
“So long, Seaman Second Class Gerry Jenkins. We hardly knew ye, but it was a privilege and that’s a fact. God and Mary go with you!"
Davenport, Iowa, December 13, 1941
Alison sat on the couch sipping a late cup of morning coffee. Daryl was due over at about eleven or so, which left her enough time to either finish the chapter on Ferber’s latest or start a letter to her baby brother. She chose the latter.
As she got up she dislodged the large sleeping red tabby that clung to her thigh; she was glad she was wearing the gabardine slacks her brother handed ‘up’ to her since she planned on doing some work around the house that morning. She found her pen on the secretary along with some stationary, but moved back to the couch along with the photo album she used as a portable desk.
“Let’s see…what should we tell Gerrie, Wilkie?”
The cat raised his head from his already resumed posture of sleep and she swore he was grinning. The name was playful; her parents had always been staunch Republicans and the cat was almost homage to their memory even if she did vote for Roosevelt.
“Hmmm….Dear Gerrie... It’s awfully cold here. I envy you the weather at least. Daryl says it’s positively dreamy there, but we still can’t wait for you to come home. I’m glad at least that you might be able to leave early since Mommy…”
Alison was at least glad that she hadn’t started writing; the writing paper absorbed the few tears that fell before she wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt.
“Why does God do that? She was so young…” Alison looked at the picture of the three of them that sat on the mantel. She and Gerrie had only each other now. Well…Gerrie had Darryl. Maybe she’d find someone, but who’d want to marry a ‘spinster’ at 31 when all the dolls had the boys' attention; even those her own age.
She placed the pen on the end table next to the ink bottle and set the album and paper on the coffee table in front of her. The cat took that as a sign and moved over. He half-hopped into her lap and began nudging and treading on her thigh once again; even the gabardine didn’t protect her this time and she flinched as his claws penetrated both fabric and skin.
“Ow, Wilkie!” She swatted him playfully on the rump and he hopped off the couch and ran into the kitchen with a loud ‘rrrowwww!’ Alison was about the return her attention to Edna and company when a knock came at the door. Daryl wasn’t due over for another hour or so. She rose and went answer the knock. Opening it, she found a very nervous looking man about her age who was holding a telegram in his hand.
“Ma’am?” He tipped his cap politely, but his demeanor remained nervous. She would come to remember the look on his face; sadness beyond his time, she would say.
“Am I at the right place?” He asked with a quiver in his voice. She sensed that this might be his first day on the job. The flap of his pouch was open, and she could see that he likely had a very full day. It wasn’t his first day, but it was the first of too many deliveries just like the telegram he held in his hand.
“For what?” She said, but her smiled seemed to diffuse his nervousness at least enough to continue.
“Oh…I’m sorry. Is this the residence of Mrs. Agnes Jenkins?” Alison’s eyes widened just a bit, and she nodded.”
“Oh…” He looked very surprised, which actually surprised Alison as well. Before he could speak, she interrupted.
“I’m sorry. My mother passed earlier this year. I’m her daughter Alison. Can I help you?
“I’m sorry,” he continued with another exchanged nervous pleasantry.
“I guess…they didn’t tell me what to do if the party….expired”
“Go ahead…what’s your name?”
“Jimmy Falcone, Miss.”
“Go ahead, Jimmy.”
His look seemed to indicate a strong reluctance so she nodded and smiled. He didn’t return the look but gazed downward instead at the piece of paper in his hand. And his eyes welled with tears. He looked up at her and took a deep breath and began to read.
“WUX Washington DC December 10, 1941, Mrs. Agnes D. Jenkins, 1278 Parson Street, Davenport, Iowa.” He paused.
“The Secretary of War desires that I tender his deepest sympathy to you in the loss of your son, Gerald A. Jenkins, Seaman Second Class, Radioman, U.S.S. Downes…”
His voice began to crack. Alison put her hand over her mouth and started to sob. Jimmy was completely at a loss, so he did what he knew had to be the only thing he could do. He pulled Alison into a hug and patted her back as she shook in his arms.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” He almost would have appeared to be apologizing for his part in the unwanted delivery of the message, but his own tears reflected the sadness he felt for the girl in his arms. After what felt like an eternity to both of them, Alison pulled away.
“I….I have some coffee…would you like some?”
Jimmy shook his head reluctantly. At another time and another place; even then he was sorely tempted to place the bag with the remaining telegrams on her front porch and join her.
“I…I have to get going.”
He pointed to the pouch. Alison stared at the many messages that peeked out of the pouch and realized she was just one of many that day. She shook her head and her face turned an extremely embarrassed shade of red, wondering why she had made his job so personal to her. She reached out and shook his hand and came away with the telegram which she grasped tightly in a fist.
“Thank you.” She paused and wondered at the awkward and nearly foolish sentiment of her comment until he nodded and half frowned; he knew that she was glad at least that someone cared. He bit his lip as tears began to fall. Nodding once again, he smiled before turning and walking out the front door....
Alison had barely contained herself when she heard another knock. She rushed up and opened it, hoping to find that the kind man had returned, only to find Daryl standing on the porch instead. He smiled as she remained silent. Shaking his head, he stepped inside.
“So, Ali, my dear, what’s up?” She held up the telegram in her hand, crumpled. His look grew puzzled until she said at last.
“Honey….Daryl?” He shook his head no, almost defiant as she finished.
“Gerrie’s gone, Daryl….she’s gone.”
Daryl began to weep, and Alison held him, stroking his hair; wishing she could ease his pain even as her own threatened to tear her heart in two. Her gaze fell upon the mantel once again. Two other pictures adorned the room. One of a young man and a young woman walking down a country road; a greeting card moment of two in love.
And a smaller older photo of two little girls sitting at a small folding table having their tea with a few stuffed animals. She shook her head at the supreme loss and pulled Daryl closer and cried as hard as she would ever cry. And she would remember...
In loving memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I hope my work does justice to that sacrifice and to honor them on this coming Memorial Day, May, 25, 2015
From the Miniseries
Composed by Hans Zimmer
I'll Be Seeing You
Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
featuring Francis Albert Sinatra