The story so far:
I walked into History class carrying with me both Grandpa’s story and Grandpa’s pictures. I carried the pictures in my backpack. I figured that’s where they’d both stay.
I sat down at my desk behind Mark. I was not looking forward to today’s quiz. I had not studied at all. But before he handed out the quiz, Mr. Bennett, my History teacher, announced that…
Today is a day that will live in infamy.
That kind of scared me. That kind of scared the whole class. We thought for a moment that this was going to be one really hard quiz. Nobody in the class was really sure what Mr. Bennett meant. So of course, Mark raised his hand and asked…
'What do you mean?'
'Have you ever heard of Ford Island?' answered Mr. Bennett. I guess adults were taught to answer questions with questions. Grandpa’s not the only one.
'Is that where Ford mustangs run around in large mustang herds?' Mark asked. There was a silence. Most of the class did not think Mark was kidding.
Mark’s blank expression convinced me to join the rest of the class. As his best friend in Hannah Middle School I gave him the benefit of the doubt as long as I could.
I saw this as not only my chance to get Mark off the hook for saying something stupid…but also to finally tell Grandpa’s story. I raised my hand and said, 'My grandpa was stationed on Ford Island on December 7, 1941. It’s an island within an island. It’s in the middle of Oahu Island, one of the Hawaiian Islands.'
'Very good, Mr. Kogut!' said Mr. Bennett with a satisfied smile.
Mark looked over at me. I whispered, 'Grandpa never said anything about mustangs…Coulda been, I guess.'
'I wish I had known that your grandfather had been there,' said Mr. Bennett. 'I would have liked him to be our guest speaker so he could share with the class his important first-hand account of what happened.'
'Oh, I can do that,' I said. 'He tells me the story every year. It doesn’t change much. If you like, I can tell it.'
Mr. Bennett smiled. 'Please do!' he said as he set aside today’s quiz. 'Come on up to the front of the class.'
Normally I would hate having to speak in front of class. But I knew this story. It is easy to talk about stuff you know…as long as nobody asks any questions.
Matt Boles, my personal bully, raised his hand with a question.
'Yes, Mr. Boles?' asked Mr. Bennett.
My personal bully asked, 'If Mr. Kotex tells a long story, will we still have to take a quiz?'
The class giggled, mostly the girls.
Mr. Bennett thought about the attempt to put off today’s quiz. He then shook his head up and down and agreed that there would be no quiz today if…'Mr. Kogut tells a good long story and everyone gives him our undivided attention.'
Teachers are always talking about this thing called: undivided attention. I just hoped that I would get enough of it, because I didn’t want to take the quiz neither.
I stood up and looked around the room. I was a little nervous, but began to understand what undivided attention was. For the first time in my life everybody in the room seemed to look straight at me, anxious to hear what I had to say, wishing, hoping, and praying that I had enough to say to avoid today’s quiz. Even my personal bully, Matt Boles, looked my way, as though counting on me to avoid another red-penciled foreshadowing of future failure.
I started the way Grandpa always starts. I think it concerned Mr. Bennett, but the class was glued to my every word as soon as I said it.
'Four out of five people benefit from going to church.'
Mr. Bennett stopped me. 'This is a story about Pearl Harbor, right?'
'That’s where the story takes place,' I answered. 'Should I go on?'
Mr. Bennett nodded with curiosity and fear.
'My grandpa was in the Navy,' I said as I continued the story. 'He had joined the Navy when he was only 19 years old, like a bazillion years ago.'
'What year did your grandfather join the Navy?' asked Mr. Bennett.
Grandpa has told me this story so many times, I’ve memorized the dates. 'It was 1936,' I answered. 'Grandpa was supposed to come home in February of 1942. That’s when his six years were up.'
'Did he come home like he wanted?' asked Elizabeth Harger, who was seated next to Mark in the front row.
'Nope,' I answered.
'Why not?' asked Bobby from the back row.
'Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941,' I replied. 'All enlisted men had their discharge orders changed. No one could come home until the war which started at 7:55 in the morning on December 7, 1941 was over.'
'My Grandma from Texas taught me about Pearl Harbor,' said the usually quiet Robert Burrell. 'Yes, sir…lot’s of people died that day.'
'That’s so sad,' said Elizabeth.
'Do you know what ship your grandfather was assigned to?' Mr. Bennett asked me. I could tell that the History teacher wanted to keep this old story on track. So I told the class about the ships.
'They named a lot of ships back then after birds and fish and people and cities and states. Grandpa was on a ship named after a state. Grandpa’s ship was called the Arizona. There were over 1500 sailors who lived and worked on the Arizona.'
'Fish?' asked Bobby.
Mr. Bennett chipped in, 'Submarines were often named after fish.'
'Cool,' Mark said. 'We had submarines.'
'So did the Japanese,' I added.
'Other than The Arizona, which other states were ships?' Mark asked.
'Well,' I said. 'There was The California, The Utah, The West Virginia, The Nevada, The Tennessee, and the Oklahoma for sure.'
Mr. Bennett smiled because I was back on track. The fear left his face but he looked as curious as ever. He was giving me his undivided attention.
'Grandpa was one of five men who loved the game of hockey and were stationed at Ford Island. Grandpa was the only hockey player that worked on the Arizona. But his four puck-passing friends worked on a smaller ship called the Vestal. The Vestal was a repair ship that was assigned to The Arizona.'
'What kind of ship was The Arizona?' Mark asked.
'Most of the ships named after states were battleships, I answered. 'The Arizona was a Battleship.'
'Cool,' said Mark.
Matt Boles raised his hand. I looked over at Mr. Bennett and he just nodded at me like I was in charge. So I pointed a nervous finger at my personal bully. Matt stood up and asked, 'Could you tell us more about the hockey players?'
I couldn’t tell if I was getting off track again…but I still had everybody’s undivided attention.
'Even though this was in the winter time,' I said, 'there were no ice rinks on Ford Island. I don’t think there was a single ice rink to be found anywhere in Hawaii. Since Grandpa and his four buddies missed playing their favorite sport, they had hockey sticks sent to them from their hometowns while the other sailors were getting cookies and magazines and love letters.'
Again the girls in the front row giggled.
'And every chance they got the five friends played street hockey on the base, right there at Ford Island.'
'What did they use for pucks?' Mark asked.
'They would either steal golf balls from the officers’ golf bags or use potatoes,' I explained.
'Potatoes?' shouted Matt Boles.
'Grandpa and his buddies played street hockey every Sunday morning. Sunday was supposed to be a time of rest…except for the crazy Marines. Grandpa called them crazy because they were the only ones flying maneuvers on Sunday mornings, target shooting and dropping fake bombs just for practice.'
'That sounds pretty crazy even to me,' replied Mark.
I slowly pulled the pictures out of my backpack and continued with the story. 'Every Sunday, before street hockey, Grandpa invited his buddies from the Vestal over to The Arizona for breakfast and then they’d go play street hockey. Sunday breakfast on board a battleship was always special, lots of good grub.'
'What’s grub?' Mark asked.
‘Food, dummy,' answered Matt Boles who was clearly still giving me his undivided attention.
'What was the funny kid’s name?' asked Mark.
'The dip-****'s name is Mark,' answered Matt Boles.
Mr. Bennett didn't look too pleased with the inappropriate use of a colorful word, despite the uncontrollable giggling throughout the entire front row. But I did everybody a favor. I took a deep breath and corrected my personal bully...
'Grandpa said Bob's name was Bob. Bob talked the other four guys, including Grandpa, into going off Ford Island to attend Church services at Pearl Harbor.'
For the first time Bobby spoke up in support of a story he had never heard. 'Eight o’clock mass,' he said. Elizabeth and several of the girls in the front row stopped giggling in order to nod their heads in agreement with Bobby. I had all kinds of undivided attention now.
'Like always, the five friends carried their hockey sticks with them whenever they left Ford Island, passing pucks between them. They did so on their way to church that morning. They had often told other sailors that the sticks were for protection since they were not allowed to carry live ammunition in their side arms. After all, they were not in a war zone, yet.'
Mark raised his hand. Matt Boles shouted out, 'No more dumb questions.' I looked at Mark and asked softly, 'Is this a dumb question?'
'Nope,' he said. 'I promise.'
So I pointed at Mark and he stood up and asked what sounded like a dumb question to everyone but me. 'On that day, December 7, 1941, did they use a golf ball puck or a potato puck?'
'Great question!' I replied. I could see Mr. Bennett started getting out the quiz. 'Potato puck!' I exclaimed. 'Potatoes were everywhere. The United States Armed Services stored small mountains of potatoes all over the base and around the shipyards.'
'Potatoes?' asked Mr. Bennett.
'Potatoes were everywhere,' I repeated.
Mr. Bennett smiled and set the quiz back down. 'I didn't know that,' he said. 'Go on with the story.'