I have this friend, of many years, whose name is El.
El is a 93-year-old World War II veteran, who still carries the bullets in his body from a surprise attack during the battle for Luzon. One of our first conversations was about this very battle and how he’d been a Japanese prisoner of war for four hours.
I thought he was jesting with me, as nobody was a Japanese prisoner of war for just four hours. The Japanese just did not operate that way during World War II….except in cases like his.
Not yet twenty years old with bullets in his back and legs, he spent over four hours laying on a jungle battlefield, as Japanese soldiers poked him and his fellow American soldiers with bayonets, to make sure they were all dead. As he laid there, every once in a while he would hear a gunshot, and know that another boy would not being going home. El will tell you the only reason he survived was that he fell face down when he was hit and how hard it was not to flutter his eyelids when poked with a bayonet.
He and his fellow survivors, made it off the island and were given medical aid. Unfortunately, there was only one small plane to evacuate the boys and it seated four. So, El and one of his buddies were put into body bags, used for the dead, with only their heads sticking out and tied to the wing of the plane. His only request was to be tied face down so that he could see where he was going.
As they flew over the Pacific ocean, at about 1000 feet, he could see the whole Pacific naval fleet, whirling around in the ocean waters beneath him. He says he often wonders what their plane looked like on radar and is amazed that they were not shot down.
By the time he reached medical care, just a day or so after being hit, his leg was already black from infection. He did not lose the leg, but he has scars the entire length of that leg that tell the story about how hard it was for him to keep it.
El is a very well known, popular, active member of the City of Forest Lake, MN. He has been a fixture on their city streets for many years as he cruises town in his “scooter”, with a big American Flag flying behind him.
Winter, spring, summer and fall, regardless of rain, sleet, snow, fog, heat or cold, not much could stop El from getting where he wanted to go on that “scooter.” He was even given a special permit, by the city, so he could legally drive on city streets.
El’s health had been more of a challenge as of late and he was recently moved into a nursing home. Today when I arrived for a visit, and to deliver several dozen of his favorite cookies, homemade gingersnaps, I found him sound asleep, with his ever present”scooter” parked right beside his bed.
I always enjoy El, and again today we had a great chat. I announced to him that I have decided that Elvis was murdered with codeine by Ginger Alden, and that Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He gave me a broad smile, and I got the look I always get for my foolishness. Then, I was told to write a book.
I then asked him if he was still cruising around town on his “scooter.” “No!”he fairly shouted. “They won’t let me out of this place without someone with me!” His response surprised me some, knowing the man as well as I do. And, I told him so. I went on to explain that find it hard to believe he could not evade capture by mere nursing home staff. After all, he has, under dire circumstances, escaped capture many times before. Then, I remembered that he was incarcerated…once.
During World War II, after El recovered from his wounds, he was sent back into service. By this time, the war in the Pacific had ended and El was sent to Japan. He and his unit were on guard duty near one of the towns that had been blasted off of the face of this earth by atom bombs.
El and his buddies had a pretty great time in Japan. They were young, had survived the war and had money in their pockets.
In those days, when in a United States military uniform in Japan and you had too much fun, you would end up in a military prison. The commander of this prison was a proud, obnoxious, arrogant, peacock-strutting of a man, who continually boasted that no one had or ever would escape his fenced stronghold of character development and repentance.
So, one night, after having enjoyed a goodly portion of fun, frivolity, frolic and fermentation, El and a buddy decided to break into the prison. The success of their venture was made known to the hilarity of all the very next morning when there were two extra soldiers during roll call.
Well, the prison commander became positively apoplectic! Both El and his commanding officer received their due portion of this man’s verbal wrath. When the prison commander finished his tirade, El’s commander turned on El threatening all sorts of dire consequences. El was then marched to his commanding officer’s jeep. When they got into the jeep, the officer turned to El and said, “Ewert, you are such a dumb ass!” Then, burst out in laughter.
El and his commanding officer returned to their camp, went into the officer’s quarters and proceeded to spend the remainder of day consuming more than their share of beer toasting the success of El’s prison break-in.
And, yes, El has met Elvis
El and I with matching hair-dos, during my cancer battle.