e had a crazy amount of rain when I sat down to write this post. You know how sometimes the rain falls so thick and so heavy that it looks like a grey curtain? Well, it rained like that. But just for a short time. The clouds rolled in, the bomb bay doors opened, the cloud burst thunder in my ears, the rain fell, and then it all packed itself up and went on its away.
Whenever it rains that hard I’m reminded of my friend Bob. Bob was a sailor in the Navy in WWII. He gave me a copy of the journal that he kept during the war. In it he wrote about how his ship, the USS Panamint, was attacked by kamikaze planes during the Battle of Okinawa. There’s some pretty insane stuff in that journal.
I met Bob on Easter Island. You’ve probably heard of the place. It’s famous for the gigantic stone heads mysteriously ranged along its shores. At the time I was there, no one was sure how the statues were moved from the quarry over to the beaches. That may still be the case. But that’s where I met Bob, in a small restaurant (they’re all small restaurants on Easter Island) on the shore near Hanga Roa (pop. 3,304).
One day we took a tour out to the quarry where the moai (the giant statues – see above) were carved from the earth. While we were eating lunch under a picnic shelter (like the kind you see in the park) it started raining. Crazy hard, like a sheet of iron. Similar to the day I started writing this post, but with two or three times the force and volume. When I held my hand out in the downpour, the force of the rain pushed my hand down. It was nuts.
Before I go on, a small piece of backstory. In WWII there was a brutal battle between the U.S. Marines and the Japanese for a strategically-located jungle island in the Pacific called Guadalcanal. The battle went on for six months. It was hot, humid, gross, nasty, inhumane, disgusting, foul, and permeated with mosquitoes. (This was all in addition to the normal shooting, bombing, bayoneting, banzai-ing, machine gunning, flamethrowering…) The battle for Guadalcanal was in 1942. Bob was there a couple of years later – after the battle but while the war was still on.
So back to Easter Island. We’re eating our lunch and this deluge of rain comes down, like God overflowed his celestial bathtub or cannonballed the pool or something. The sound of the rain pounding the corrugated tin above us is deafening. You can’t see more than two feet beyond the edge of the shelter, the air is so thick with water. Bob looks across the table at me and his eyes get all big and googly and he smiles. Then he shouts, “THIS IS JUST WHAT IT WAS LIKE ON GUADALCANAL IN ’45!” Then he laughed and finished his sandwich.
Seriously, you can’t buy moments like that.
Bob went on to tell me that it was so humid and hot on Guadalcanal that the the cotton stitching on the mens’ dungarees would literally rot and their jeans would fall apart. Wounds wouldn’t heal because they were never dry. They just suppurated. Malaria was rampant. It all sounded utterly miserable. But I always remember Bob and what he said about Guadalcanal whenever it rains real hard. And something else comes to mind: I experience history by being a history buff—reading books, watching shows and movies, that sort of thing—and through anecdotes like Bob’s. But for some people that history—the nasty, brutish, inhumane horror that it sometimes was—was their actual life. And I’m humbled by those who survive the past and the events that typically go in the books as “history” and pass on what they’ve learned and what they saw and what they did and heard and felt to the schmucks like me who were fortunate to have never had to go through it themselves. To all of you: thank you for letting me see the past through your eyes. I’m grateful.
God bless, Bob.