My dad yearned to become a doctor from the moment he saw Doc Weeks, the county physician, set a leg. At 16, he thumbed his way from Talking Rock, Georgia, to Atlanta, where he worked as an office boy. He was in a hurry; Pearl Harbor had ignited the war, and like millions, he was eager to serve. Dad’s youthful impatience wore down his father, who finally signed the papers so he could enlist at 17.
He tested to be an airplane mechanic. Nevertheless, Dad bumped into some brass and flatly told them he didn’t want to fight the war with a toolbox. He ended up as a pharmacist’s mate on a landing ship tank (LST). It was his first crack at hands-on healing. Covered in blood and with a limited amount of morphine, he treated wounded soldiers on D-Day—and pulled the dead off Utah Beach.
Dad transferred to the Pacific Theater. The typhoons terrified more than the kamikazes. The LST crew burned oil, billowing clouds of smoke to camouflage the ship from divine-wind suicide, but they could not hide from nature’s fury.
A typhoon’s roar deafened, with seas crashing all around. In the valley between 35-foot waves, the sailors stared up at a wall of water curving overhead. Then the ship rode almost perpendicular, surviving the crest before tossed into another valley.
When the ship sailed into the eye, an eerie quiet fell. Flocks of seabirds sought refuge on the tiny metal island. They perched without fear, even within hand’s reach.
My father could not bear what was to come. He scooped up a few gentle creatures and stowed them in shoeboxes below. The typhoon raged again, battering most birds to death against the ship.
Hours later, the sea calmed, and the skies cleared. Dad slipped below and bundled up the birds. Then he ran topside, releasing them to soar.
Life, after all, in the madness of death.