Tuesday, April 20, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #10: Honor and Respect

There are moments in your life when you are in just the wrong place at the wrong time. Conversely, there are moments when you find yourself just where you are needed.

In a busy production office, I often find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the direct path of an angry producer marching down the hall, for example, or perched suspiciously close to an unwieldy stapler, or at my desk when that crazy guy comes to visit and wants to share his stories involving unicorns and leprechauns. He doesn’t seem to get that we are a documentary production company, but if anything I have to hand it to him for his persistence.

This afternoon, however, I found myself where I am often not: in the very right place at the very right time.

Three sugarless Red Bulls in and two very lengthy development phone calls, I walked up toward the front of my office to stretch my legs. Spinning around in my chair had left me somewhat dizzy and I could hear my coworker sighing at the rapid click, click, clicking of my pen.

The mail had just arrived, so annoyed that I didn’t receive anything, I decided to relax up in our accountant’s office as she opened the daily mail and launched into a discussion about schedules. I noticed her open one handwritten letter and place it next to her as she engaged me in conversation. That letter felt electric, but I can’t explain why.

It should be noted that we receive quite a few letters and phone calls every day with people suggesting their stories. Most come from homicide detectives who are familiar with our work on Cold Case Files, and truth be told, it can be wearing on the heart to read letter after letter of gruesome and unsolved murders.

But as I glanced down by my accountant’s hand to gloss over the note in her hand, I was immediately drawn to the black and white photograph clipped neatly on top.

“Who is this?”

“I’m not sure, actually. But I recognize the name. This nice man called us last week and asked for our mailing address so he could send a letter.”

"Can I read it?"

"Of course," she replied. “You may have it. I figured I'd send it over to you since you are heading up development.”

I held up the photograph; looking back at me in black and white was a dashing young Marine. Though I could tell the photograph was a copy of an older photo, the image was very clear. He appeared to be roughly the same age as both my husband and me. In the picture, he is smiling so he seems warm and approachable. Though the image is black and white, I could tell that he shared the same ice blue eyes as my husband, the same chiseled cheekbones, similar ears.

As I carefully removed the photograph from its letter, another black and white fell away. I caught it mid air as it floated to the ground. A stunning woman stared back at me with a Mona Lisa smile. Her eyes appear intense, her right eyebrow raised in mock defiance, her neck decorated with what appears to be a colorful chiffon scarf. She is beautiful. I flipped over the photograph and read the inscription:

“My mother: married 57 years before she passed.”

In my right hand, I held the hand written note. With interest, I drew it closer to my face and began to read:

Dear People of KP,
My father is probably the last living member of Amphibious Recon, the most elite of all the services at that time. His story should be told from the perspective of someone who was really there. I have enclosed where was from, and the honors he received. The stories he tells show the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. He was run over by a Russian tank in Korea which broke his back, and this is just one of the many stories he tells.

He was at Gilbert Islands, Tarwara Atoll, Abamoma Atoll, Marshall Islands, Majuro Atoll, Anewetoc Atoll, Saipan, Tinian (he and his team scouted under cover of darkness, unarmed) Kume Shima, Iwo Jima (he was inside Mt. Surabachi while the flag was being raised) Okinawa, Korea, the Pentagon, then a final tour in Korea.

He was awarded:
Korean War Service Medal
Korean Presidential Unit Citation
United Nations Service Medal
Korean Service Medal with Bronze service star
National Defense Service Medal
WWII Victory Medal
Asiatic-Pacific campaign medal with One Silver and One Bronze Service Star
America Campaign Medal
USMC Good Conduct Medal with Gold Star
Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon/Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon
Combat Ribbon
Personal letter of Commendation Ribbon
Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device

Time is of the essence to get his interview recorded, he is 83, and cannot talk for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. If his biography was produced according to its merits, it would be every bit, actually more I believe, better than any of the recent WWII movies that have been made recently. I look forward to hearing if there is any interest in this project. When my father dies, we will have a full Military funeral with a twenty one-gun salute.

Thank you,
K. Powers

Soon as I had read that last line, I knew that I needed to speak with these men: this son, this father. At least, if I couldn't do something myself, I might be able to garner some interest by another massive production company, film or otherwise.

Time is of the essence, time is of the essence, time is of the essence.

I looked at the date on the top of the letter: 7 April 2010.

I took off running through the halls, oblivious to angry producers or wayward editors or misplaced equipment.

Once I reached my desk, I dialed the first number. Nothing.

My fingers bounced over the keypad like some furious pianist as I tried the second. The other line clicked as though someone has picked up.


"Is Mr. Powers available?"

"This is he."

And with that affirmation I launched into how I had just discovered his letter, how I ran from one end of the office to the next. I was rambling then, breathless.

The man on the other end of the line cleared his voice and for a moment I wondered if I had accidentally dialed the wrong K. Powers.

“I’m so sorry, Ms. Dolack, my father died last night. I should have sent the letter sooner.“

Crushing, to say the least. Not even so much that I didn’t get there in time for this man to narrate his own story, (though that was part of it) but mostly because I never got to shake his hand, give him a hug, tell him thank you. It may have meant little to him, but I think it would have meant the world to me.

Instead, I was just an amorphous voice on the other end of the line, unable to speak for a moment; shocked, one day late and a dollar short. How does one recover from that moment when you want to reach out and find only electrical wires?

“I am so very sorry for your loss, sir. Oh, I am so sorry. God Bless you and him, your family.”

That’s not good enough. I know that’s not good enough.

“I am so sorry I called at such a time and I won’t bother you. If you find yourself with some free time in the future, I’d really love to speak with you.”

“You mean, you still want to hear his story?” He asked somewhat incredulously.

“Yes, sir.”

But speaking to this man’s son in the middle of a crowded production office didn't seem right. A hero and his family deserve so much more.

“My husband,” I said and paused, caught off guard by the crack in my voice and the tears quickly welling my eyes, “My husband is also Marine, and he is currently deployed in Korea.”

I carefully placed the photograph of this man’s father, who I now knew as Master Gunnery Sergeant Homer J. Powers, directly below a photograph of my very own husband posing on a jet in Korea. Both their eyes twinkle back at me mischievously, their similar smiles lighting up the photograph, making them both appear to be lit by a Hollywood movie set.

And I had missed talking to him by one day.

“He really would have enjoyed sharing his stories with you, with your husband. I know he would have.”

I wonder if I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more. It isn’t too often you can pick up the phone or walk into a house and speak with an American hero.

"Yes, he was really trying to hold on," he responded. "I've been reaching out to different companies and no one has ever responded. You are the first person to call us back. I know he had something to do with this though,” and his voice takes an upbeat turn, “that the letter would reach your hands, a Marine's wife, a Marine in Korea, no less. I wish I could have told him in person, but somehow, I think he knows."

I cradle the phone in my neck and rest my ear against the receiver. I can’t take my eyes off that photograph. I think, I almost think, he winks at me.

"Yes, I reply with a smile in my voice, “somehow I think he knows."

We schedule a time to talk in the next few hours; I can’t believe that this man who just lost his father would be willing to sit down and speak with me. I am honored that I get to be that tiny voice on the other end of the line, a tiny voice that will do everything possible to tell this man’s story.

As it should be, and as I await my next phone call with an eager yet heavy heart, with a family who grieves the loss of their hero and a nation who should offer a silent and respectful salute, there is only one way I can think bring this chapter to an appropriate close.

And that is:

To be continued…

Or perhaps, to begin.


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