My Uncle Leo was quite the story teller. If the story was sad he made your eyes water. If funny you laughed. Of course all his stories came from real-life experiences. I don’t remember a whole lot about Leo during my early years for he moved his family to California while I grew up in Massachusetts. It wasn’t until I joined the Air Force that I was to get to know him like an uncle should be known.
He told me stories about my mom and dad that I had never realized but shed some light as to why I was brought up in an orphanage.
My first get-to-know-my-uncle time was when I was on my way to Alaska in 1963. I spent a few days with him while en-route to my new duty station. We had a great time while he showed me all around his place of work. He worked for MGM studios in those days as a night watchman and taking me around the studio back-lots in that army jeep (used on the TV series Combat) was as memorable as memories can be. And yes, he told me a few stories.
A few more visits over the years as I passed through California from one military assignment to another got to be almost as if the Air Force was playing family reunion as a part of my transfer orders. There was the week my family and I stayed while on our way to Okinawa with a repeat of the same on our way back from the Pacific. Just to mention that ocean brought more stories from Uncle Leo…you see he spent a lot of time there in WW II.Then it was around 1973 while stationed in Texas that the Air Force would send me TDY (Air Force lingo for Temporary Duty) to Southern California…I guess the reason for the TDY is not important here, but just in case you’re interested, it was to buy dogs for the military working dog program. Yeah, it was great! Right down the road (so to speak) from my Uncle Leo’s place was Fort MacArthur where all the preliminary physicals and qualification testing was accomplished before the dogs were inducted into the service. But that’s another story…for it was during this visit that Leo told the story that led me to tell this story.
I’m not sure what it was that perked his memory but he began this story by lighting up a cigarette (and yes, he was a heavy smoker…the old Lucky Strikes without the filter). He was somewhere out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean being transferred to another island during some of the heaviest fighting of WW II. Now Leo can only tell this part like Leo can and I cannot re-enact the inflection of his voice. He describes the situation where he sees a grown man on his knees reciting some prayer while a torpedo is headed straight for the ship. Most everyone thought it would be their last day on earth…except Leo. He lights a cigarette and nonchalantly walks to the ship’s stern and flicks his ashes over the torpedo that passes harmlessly below curvature of the hull and disappears.Now I may not have given the torpedo story much justice but let’s fast forward to October 1, 2011. In the town where I live they have what is called Claybank Jamboree every first Saturday in October. One of the vendors on display in the town’s square was distributing free books. When a book was handed to me I didn’t pay too much attention to the title until I reached home later in the day. It’s a religious book and I’m not a huge reader of denominational conditionings…my religious beliefs are pretty much set at my age. But then again I wasn’t going to let a book go to waste…so I began reading “Psalm 91 God’s Shield of Protection”. Not a catchy title that I’d be looking for at a book store but here’s what it said right there in chapter one:
Leo is gone now but his story is still alive...“…a situation in which a U.S. Navy boy from Texas found himself. Running spiritually to his secret place is most likely what saved his ship from disaster. He and his mother had agreed to repeat Psalm 91 each day at a given time, to add agreement to his protection covenant. He later told of a time when his ship was under attack from the air and from an enemy submarine at the same time. All battle stations on the ship were in operation when the sub came within firing range and loosed a torpedo directly toward them. At that moment the young man realized it was the exact time that his mother would be saying Psalm 91, so he began quoting the psalm just as the torpedo wake appeared, headed directly toward their battleship. Then, when it was just a short distance away, it suddenly swerved, passing the stern and disappearing.”
By Norman E. Hooben