An angel walked up to our group shortly after we came aboard the Midway, the famous aircraft carrier that had recently been towed to berth in San Diego Harbor. The ‘captain’ of our crew was a veteran who’d served aboard such a vessel in WWII.
It was Herman’s birthday, and he’d invited us to share the action pinnacle of his life. My husband and I knew this because, despite a marriage and two grown children and one grandchild, his war service was all he wanted to talk about. We listened to the conversational loop – and learned –
because it was right. We were witness, on duty to revere this man.
The angel was a blonde with her hair in an all business ponytail that brushed a open shoulder bag piled with film when she greeted him, the aged man in a Navy veteran ball cap.
Her dark blue uniform was all business, too. It said Navy. She said she’d been tasked to follow a veteran aboard the ship and take candid photos. Herman almost saluted her, such was his pride. And take photos, she did, hundreds and hundreds of them, with our WWII buddy, Herman, centered in every frame. Sometimes he seemed to blush, but he was all ham and he posed, showing this and pointing out that, basking in the glory. His WWII ball cap seemed to lift into a halo above his bushy white hair; his stride lengthened as if in parade mode around the large deck.
He’d been a tail hook crew member, pulling the roped wires that snagged the fighter planes to land aboard the floating runways. The ropes were as thick as our heads. I couldn’t imagine the weight, but I could grasp the urgency of the task. I’d listened to several Navy fighter pilots from the Vietnam era who described the simultaneous thrill, the jar and jerk that was their ‘welcome home.’ While Herman’s contribution had previously seemed meager – and he had few people alive to share his memories with at his advanced age – he was the hero of the day.
The pretty young woman took my husband’s email address and promised to send pics to him, so that we could print them for Herman. Elation sustained, joy beyond the thrilling moments. Memories perfected with the tincture of time: photos are.
When months went by, we conjectured that the photographer was an angel, not a real person, sent by God to glorify Herman’s day. Her unexpected presence made the event larger than we could have hoped for Herman. The film in our memories sufficed.
And the imprint on Herman’s proud heart never faded away: HERO. For a day – forever in his mind.