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Once again, One Fewer

Rocky RaabRocky Raab Member Posts: 13,404 ✭✭✭✭
edited May 26 in General Discussion

For those who have never read it, and for those who read it every year, here is my Memorial Day Tribute...

One Fewer

I first saw him hobbling down the aisle of a small gun show. He was obviously of advanced age: white-haired, frail and walking with a pronounced limp, his bony left hand grasping one of those spiral thornwood canes that look like a kudu’s horn. It was that cane that caught my attention – without it, the man would have been invisible.

His pained but determined pace picked up when he neared a table only two away from mine. The table’s owner displayed military battle rifles. The old gent stopped there, but I became distracted by customers of my own and did not notice him again.

The promoter held two shows a year in that small town, and I became a regular vendor. After that first time, I started noticing the old gentleman at every show. He always carried that magnificently polished, deep brown cane. He always went steadfastly to that same dealer’s table. He always came on Sunday morning when the crowds were thin.

Clearly not well off financially, the old man’s clothes never varied. His shoes were of brown leather, the toes curled up from age, deep cracks at the toe bend and the heels worn to a smooth curve; but they were always carefully brushed to a soft luster. His slacks were khaki cotton, a semblance of a crease still showing down the front of each leg, with an irregular outline on one thigh that bespoke of a liquid stain long ago acquired. His sports jacket was dark brown wool, its herringbone pattern all but obliterated by age. Its pockets sagged as if he’d once limped home –in a driving rain- with oranges in them. The dulled and faded miniature of a military ribbon adorned the jacket’s left lapel. Under the jacket he always wore a white shirt so thin his sleeveless undershirt showed through. On his Western-style bolo tie, a walnut-sized, blood-red stone mirrored the man’s jutting Adam’s apple. Raising the stooped figure to perhaps five-feet six, a grey fedora hat rode. Now battered, sweat-stained and misshapen, the hat characterized him as much as the liver spots on his pallid, papery skin.

I was able to catalog such small details because of his laborious gait. He’d plant the tightly clutched cane, then half-shuffle, half-slide his crippled left leg forward, and finally his still-spry right: tap, drag, step; tap, drag, step. Just watching him brought a dull empathetic ache to my hips and knees.

Neither his appearance nor his habits ever varied: he’d hobble past my table, spend a few minutes in front of the rifle collector’s display, then leave, unnoticed.

And then, one time, he failed to appear.

Just before the show ended that Sunday afternoon, I ambled over to the rifle table. On one end were a few P-17 Enfields and Springfields, a couple SMLE’s, one or two ’98 Mausers and an Arisaka. At the other end were several .30 M-1 carbines, a Garand and even a rare Johnson rifle. It was interesting stuff, but I really wanted to ask about the old man.

“I heard he passed away last month,” the dealer said. “I’ll miss him.” He shook his head ruefully and looked down.

“You know anything about him? Your table was the only one he ever visited, as far as I saw.”

“Not much. But it wasn’t my table that he visited. It was this,” he said, pointing to the Garand.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s like this…the first few times he came by, I tried to wait on him. But he never spoke a word – like I wasn’t even there. He’d walk up, stand there a bit, and then he’d lightly touch the Garand. With just his fingertips, as though it was his lover or something, you know? Then one time I said, ‘You seem like you know that rifle. Carry one in the Army?’ He shook his head a little and kept right on caressing that rifle’s stock, but he said ‘Marines.’

“So then I looked at him a little closer. You know that little blue pin in his lapel? That’s the Navy Cross, and it’s the highest they give except for the Medal of Honor. And so I had to ask him where he got it, and he finally looked up at me. His eyes were brimming, as if some nightmare just came back to him, and he choked out one word: ‘Tarawa.’

“After that, I’d sell any rifle on the table, except that Garand. It would have killed him if I had. I never will sell it, now.” He stood silently for a second, then concluded, “Those two spoken words and that ribbon are all I know about that old man, but they’re all I need to know.”

As if my hand was drawn to it, I stroked the stock of the Garand and whispered, “Thank you.” I’m not sure if I said it to the dealer, or that rifle, or the hovering spirit of that departed hero. Maybe all three. But I meant it.

Printed in “The Big Show Journal” May/June 2005 © Copyright Rocky Raab 2005

Permission to reprint in full (with author credit and copyright notice) is granted.

Author’s note: If I calculate correctly, the youngest man to enlist and fight in World War II would now be in his 90s. Almost all of them are gone. If you know or even meet a veteran from that conflict, thank them from the bottom of your heart…while you still can.

I may be a bit crazy - but I didn't drive myself.


  • 4205raymond4205raymond Member Posts: 2,689 ✭✭✭✭

    Rocky, I watch for this each year. My Diane and little dog Willie have passed now and this is the first Memorial Day without them. I will drive upstate to visit my daughter and show her your story. I do not want to be alone on Memorial Day. I remember so many in my family who gave so much, some gave all. Thank you Rocky. ---------------------Ray (another Vet)

  • Rocky RaabRocky Raab Member Posts: 13,404 ✭✭✭✭

    If you find any solace in my words, Ray, I am sincerely honored.

    I may be a bit crazy - but I didn't drive myself.
  • Mr. PerfectMr. Perfect Member, Moderator Posts: 65,077 ******

    Rocky I love this and do look forward to it every year. Thank you.

    Some will die in hot pursuit
    And fiery auto crashes
    Some will die in hot pursuit
    While sifting through my ashes
    Some will fall in love with life
    And drink it from a fountain
    That is pouring like an avalanche
    Coming down the mountain
  • austin20austin20 Member Posts: 32,344 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 26

    Rocky, Very nice

  • montanajoemontanajoe Forums Admins, Member, Moderator Posts: 56,301 ******
  • SW0320SW0320 Member Posts: 2,187 ✭✭✭✭

    I have been fortunate to know three WWII veterans of very high caliber.

    The first was at Schofield when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He survived the attack and fought all through the Pacific.

    The second was a waist gunner on a B17. He got shot down and had to bail out at 20,000 feet, was captured and was in a POW camp for 6 months.

    The third was at D-Day and survived to go all the way to Germany.

    All three were very successful business men.

    I consider myself to be extremely honored because they told me of their experiences in the war. I feel so honored because I found out after they had passed away that they told me things that they had never told their families.

  • chris8X57chris8X57 Member Posts: 1,121 ✭✭✭✭

    I had the honor to work with a man that fought in Germany, later in Korea, and served as an Army adviser in Vietnam. He never spoke much of any of it. He did have several captured North Vietnamese flags in his study.

    My father-in-law wore glasses so he never flew, but served with the 7th Air Force in England. He told me of standing in Picadilly Circus and watching a V-1 flying bomb pass over. When he described it, I could almost hear it's pulse jet engine.

  • NeoBlackdogNeoBlackdog Member Posts: 15,504 ✭✭✭✭

    This never fails to draw a tear from my eye.

  • Horse Plains DrifterHorse Plains Drifter Forums Admins, Member, Moderator Posts: 38,467 ***** Forums Admin

    Very touching and heart wrenching at the same time.

  • Toolman286Toolman286 Member Posts: 2,568 ✭✭✭✭

    I have Europe & Asia bring-backs from my father and a friend. They mean a great deal to me.

  • KenK/84BravoKenK/84Bravo Member Posts: 10,461 ✭✭✭✭

    I've read it several times here. It never fails to choke me up and make me cry.

    My Dad was WWII, Korea, Vietnam. ABN/CSM.

    Very Proud of you Dad.

    I Miss You Very Much.

    Crying now. Tears running down my cheeks.

    Extreme NE TN/W NC ya'll. 😁

  • Rocky RaabRocky Raab Member Posts: 13,404 ✭✭✭✭

    Ken, you will probably understand how many breaks I had to take when writing it. It choked up my fingers. Imagine what it does to my eyes.

    I may be a bit crazy - but I didn't drive myself.
  • austin20austin20 Member Posts: 32,344 ✭✭✭✭

    You did a really good job

  • bs233jlbs233jl Member Posts: 543 ✭✭✭

    You have a great talent. Thanks for sharing.

  • 4205raymond4205raymond Member Posts: 2,689 ✭✭✭✭

    Thank you to all the old men who gave so much. -----------Ray

  • Rocky RaabRocky Raab Member Posts: 13,404 ✭✭✭✭

    Bump on the day.

    I may be a bit crazy - but I didn't drive myself.
  • roswellnativeroswellnative Member Posts: 9,966 ✭✭✭

    God bless America

    Although always described as a cowboy, Roswellnative generally acts as a righter of wrongs or bodyguard of some sort, where he excels thanks to his resourcefulness and incredible gun prowesses.
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