[February 6, 2024] Miracles do happen. I’d been delivering newspapers on my bicycle back in my old High School days, just a few blocks from where I lived, and standing next to a green-colored, early 1950s Studebaker Champion car was this older man who looked meaner than dirt and older than Moses. With his shirt sleeves rolled up, I noticed a naked lady tattoo on his right arm. Immediately, I stopped and said “howdy” in my southern twang, doing my best to sound like a Texan. “You’re not from around here, are ya?” He said, talking like I was being accused of some terrible crime.
“Just delivering papers,” I managed to eke out. I looked more at his car; it was beautiful if a machine could be beautiful. It was sleek, had many curves and chrome, and had a futuristic look. At the time, America was pushing into space, new inventions were hitting the market, and the world was moving peacefully into a better future.
“Hop in, and I’ll take ya for a spin.” It was like a wish had come true that I would sit in this wonderful car. A sixth sense of mine was trying to kick in. And I was a little scared of this old man; he didn’t look right in the head. He was a neighbor, so he had to be sane. Weren’t we all? Besides, it was the suburbs.
He drove like my great-grandmother, slow, cautiously, and taking curves in the road like he was navigating through a nursery of toddlers. I looked over at him, and there on his upper arm was that tattoo of a naked lady in a provocative pose, like she was dancing. At first, I didn’t notice three horizontal bars under the naked lady. My curiosity peaked, for I knew there had to be a good story here. I asked him about the tattoo, and his words came tumbling out, telling me of a great adventure he and his men had experienced during “the war.”.
This old man had been the Skipper of a Navy submarine early in World War II. His job was hunting Japanese shipping in the Pacific, near the Japanese home islands. Those missions were extraordinarily dangerous early in the war. It was common to lose the sub with all men on board due to accidents, just as often as enemy action.
This old man, known locally as Mr. Jacob, told me of one encounter his sub crew had in 1942. His men were being hunted relentlessly by Japanese anti-submarine ships. In one engagement, and out of desperation, he launched several torpedoes head-on at one of their warships. His sub escaped, sinking that ship, but only after a great deal of damage to the sub. It was a miraculous escape.
The bars below the naked lady were ‘warships’ his crew sank. Cargo ships were easy prey compared to warships. I asked him what he thought about me getting a tattoo. He laughed since I was a wimpy kid in his eyes. End of conversation.
On the slow drive back to my bike and undelivered newspapers, we stopped at a place selling sodas. He bought me a Dr. Pepper and said, “You have a good life because we were there.” And he was right.
Years after I joined the Army, several friends suggested we go downtown to get a tattoo to show that we were “tough men.” I declined. I knew what a tough man was like.
Please read my books: