That’s right, writing makes me break down and cry sometimes.
Not always, but sometimes the weight of what’s to be said is too much.
I spent the last couple hours revising a manuscript I call “Herb Short’s Story.” After I’d put the draft away, I got to thinking about my Uncle Herb and the tears started to flow.
It’s tough to be the inheritor of Herb’s story. I think my life as a writer would be way more carefree if the memories of Herb weren’t always there, lurking beneath the other tales I spin. But Herb’s story is one so profound that it won’t lie still the way Herb’s ashes do. It won’t let me shirk. I started working on an entirely different story today but Herb’s story is always there, and today Herbert Albert Hopp just couldn’t be put off to another day.
Herb was a hero of World War II, as were a lot of other guys. He was a man who broke down after the war and killed himself with alcohol and self pity. So did a lot of other guys. But still, beyond all that, and all those other heroes who suffered, Herb’s story is more. Much, much more.
Much more pain. How many of you have, isolated and all alone, buried your best friends in the muck of a jungle island hell in the South Pacific? How many of you have dug an enemy fighter airplane’s machine gun slug out of your breastbone with a stick? How many of you have crawled through a malaria-infested jungle with shrapnel in your skull and wounds on every part of your body to find your way back to safety? How many of you have experienced such events, and come home to receive not accolades, but neglect?
I have only one single memory of my Uncle Herb. At a family gathering, aged four, I was playing with a lawn mower while my parents and Herb drank and carried on. When my fingers got caught and almost severed, it was Herb who accompanied my father to the hospital to get me stitched up. Just before the nurse put a gauze compress with ether over my mouth and nose, Herb leaned near and said, “You’re not hurt too bad. You’ll pull through.”
That image, and that image alone, is my sole memory of Uncle Herb, the hero of the pain, the long-sufferer, the war winner. No wonder I weep when I think too much about him.
And more. It isn’t just about heroism, to which so many dedicated themselves in World War II. It’s about accomplishment. Herb’s job on that Grumman Avenger aircraft was to man the turret gun and shoot down Japanese Zero pilots as the plane made its torpedo run on the battleships of the Japanese Imperial Fleet, and he did his job well, downing two in one mission.
That was Herb’s only mission, and he spent the remainder of the war recovering from massive injuries and trauma that gave him a permanent limp and woke him screaming in the middle of the night for the rest of his life. And drove him to booze.
Enough said, for now. More on Herb later, when I can stand it.