'Five minutes before church started they heard an explosion. The five pals looked up. Airplanes filled the skies. Grandpa said to the others,
What in the H…E…Double hockey sticks are those crazy Marines up to now?
Bob from Chicago pointed to a red sun painted on one of the wings and shouted,
Those ain’t Marines, Sailor! Let’s run for the church!
Yesiree Bob! the other four shouted as they all ran for shelter at the church up ahead. The five of them ran shoulder to shoulder all in a row, all keeping up with each other. A Japanese pilot saw them. He brought his small fighter plane close to land and strafed the road where the five pals were running for their lives. The pilot strafed right down the middle of the road.'
'What does strafe mean?' asked Matt Boles.
Mr. Bennett decided to answer Matt’s question. 'A machine gun mounted on the nose of the Japanese fighter plane…probably a Zero…shot at those men as the nose pointed towards the ground.' I didn’t know Mr. Bennett knew about such things. 'That’s called strafing', the teacher said as he bit into his lip and turned to me.
'Bob fell down,' I told the class. 'Bob from Chicago, who wanted to go to church, who ran in the middle surrounded by his hockey buddies…fell to the ground. He took five bullets from the machine gun, one in his leg, one in his lower back…the bullet came out his belly button, two in his chest…but they missed his heart, and the last one took his right ear lobe clean off.' I touched each place on my body to show everyone where Bob from Chicago was shot.
'Were the other guys shot?' Mark asked.
'That’s just what Bob wanted to know,' I said. 'Bob asked my grandpa if anybody else had taken a bullet. As planes buzzed all around them, as the bombs exploded and the smoke filled the skies, four friends huddled around their dying pal. 'Nosiree, Bob,' they answered. Grandpa knew about such things as wounds. Some bullet wounds are worse than others. Bob was bleeding from his chest and his stomach…his gut…as Grandpa calls it.'
'Is that it?' Mark asked. 'Is that all they said to a dying man?'
'Nosireebob,' I answered. 'They all said thank-you to Bob from Chicago. They thanked him for talking everyone into going to church that morning instead of having breakfast on The Arizona.'
'Why?' asked Mark. 'What was for breakfast?'
'Grandpa never said,' I said. 'But while the five pals walked to church, the Arizona was torpedoed by Japanese submarines below the water and attacked by Japanese bombers from above.'
'What did Bob from Chicago say when they thanked him,' Mark asked.
'Nothing, dummy,' said Matt Boles. 'He was dead.'
'Not true, not yet,' I corrected my personal bully. 'The four sailors huddled around Bob from Chicago in the middle of the road, in the middle of the battle, too sad or too frightened to run.
Grandpa remembers how he cried as he stuck his finger into Bob’s belly button in order to stop the bleeding.'
'Eww,' said Mark.
I ignored Mark and continued to tell the story the way Grandpa always tells it.
'The way Grandpa tells it, there he was with his finger in the belly button of Bob from Chicago. Bob looked at his gut wound and laughed. Bob thought it was pretty funny...a funny way to die. He then said to Grandpa,
It could be worse, you mighta had to stick your finger up my…'
Mr. Bennett’s well-placed cough meant for me to skip the colorful words.
'According to Grandpa, Bob smiled at each of them, saying… I pray you boys remember all the wonderful things in your life…'
'Then what?' asked Matt Boles.
'Then Grandpa screamed, MEDIC! as black smoke and explosions filled the air. It sure helps me pass over, said Bob from Chicago, with his eyes wide open …to the light on the other side...'
'What light?' asked Mark.
‘It’s so dark here, Bob said as Grandpa’s finger covered over with blood. But I ain’t afraid, Bob from Chicago whispered. I remember who I am. I remember…everything.’
'Were any other sailors on The Arizona hurt?' asked Mark.
Mr. Bennett looked over at me. I looked back at him and said, 'I got this.' I turned to Mark and answered, 'Out of the 1500 men who lived on The Arizona, over 1100 didn’t live anymore.'
'Wow,' said Mark.
'Twenty-two American ships were shot, torpedoed, sunk, or destroyed,' I added.
'Wow,' said Mark.
'Two-thousand four hundred and three Americans died that day.'
'Wow,' said Mark.
Robert Burrell raised his hand. I looked at Mr. Bennett and again he nodded to me. So I pointed to the usually quiet Robert Burrell. He stood up and asked, 'Did your grandfather tell you the story about Doris Miller?'
'No,' I answered. Then I realized that there must be many stories within the story of Pearl Harbor. 'Was she your grandmother?' I asked.
'No,' the usually quiet Robert Burrell said with a sneer. 'Doris was a man, my grandmother’s brother. The white folks called him Dorrie.'
'Did you want to tell the class a Pearl Harbor story about your relations,' Mr. Bennett asked the usually quiet Robert Burrell.
'No sir,' said Robert as he sat down. 'Just wanted to know if anybody tells his story but us.'
'Who is us?' asked Mark.
'I said no more stupid questions,' shouted Matt Boles, my personal bully. 'So Kogut…what exactly did your brave grandpa do?' Matt Boles asked. 'Did he run away?'
I looked past Mark and Bobby and Robert Burrell. I looked right past Elizabeth who was quietly crying, and I looked straight into the eyes of Matt Boles.
'For your information,' I said to my personal bully, 'Grandpa stood up to the Japanese planes…and bravely threw potatoes at them.'
I don’t know why, but Elizabeth Harger stopped crying. She started to smile as I continued to hold her undivided attention.
'You mean hockey pucks?' asked Mark.
'I mean potatoes…big ugly potatoes with scary eyes all over,' I said. 'The Japanese pilots were only 25, 30 feet off the ground as they tried to kill as many Americans as they could…but the potatoes looked like hand grenades. Grandpa and his pals stood in front of dead Bob from Chicago and hurled potatoes at the enemy because they weren’t allowed to carry guns with live ammunition. Thanks to those potatoes and the bravery of four church-bound, frightened, young sailors willing to stand up to their enemy, plane after plane after plane changed course and flew away.'
'Cool,' said Mark.
'I think your grandpa's wrong,' said Bobby, 'Or you're telling the story wrong.'
I wasn’t sure how I could be wrong about retelling a story I had heard a hundred times. And I don’t like anybody telling me Grandpa’s wrong…even though Dad says he is about most things.
'Explain to the class why you think so,' ordered Mr. Bennett to Bobby.
I held onto the envelope of pictures and waited for Bobby’s answer.
'Didn't your grandpa say that only four out of five people benefit from going to church?'
'He sure did,' I answered.
'Well, I think five out of five people benefited from going to church that day. Four men lived to tell the story about how one man got to be their guardian angel,' explained Bobby.
'What’s a guardian angel?' asked Mark.
'We all have one,' said Bobby. 'And we all have the potential of becoming one…like Mr. Bob from Chicago.'
'Not me,' shouted Matt Boles. 'I’m no one’s guardian angel.'
That’s for sure I thought to myself. But Bobby turned to my personal bully and bravely replied, 'Even a guy like you can be a guardian angel.'
Before Bobby needed his own guardian angel to protect him from my personal bully, I decided to pass out the photographs of burning ships named after states. There were pictures of the skies full of enemy planes…and pictures taken from those planes as they dropped their bombs.
Some might think they were just pictures, but I feel they're more like tiny slices of Grandpa's memory, like post cards that say WISH YOU WEREN'T HERE, like whispers that echo Remember Everything. The class turned their undivided attention over to Grandpa's photographs as those old black and white pictures told the story better than I ever could.