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Excerpt for 28 Months of Heaven and Hell by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

 

 

28 Months of

Heaven and Hell

 

 



J.D. Karns

Janet Beasley



Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25


 

Copyright © 2014 by J.D. Karns Janet Beasley

All rights reserved.  Photo of USS Melvin R. Nawman DE-416 courtesy of the U.S. Navy: www.navsource.org



ISBN: 978-1-63324-033-9

10: 1633240339

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

The views and opinions expressed in this book may not be those of the publisher.



To find out more about this book or the author, visit: www.authorjanetbeasley.com






Dedication

I dedicate this book to my "Big Brother" Carl Lee Young, Jr. and to each and every service man and woman who gave their all in that war that I might continue to have the freedom I have always known.

-Charles L. Young




Acknowledgments

To J.D. Karns, author: thank you for this creative endeavor. Not only did you expertly use Carl's journal entries to relate the historical facts, but also you put your imagination to work and portrayed a warm, family-oriented story that captures the true feeling of the WWII era in the Midwestern United States.

To my brother Carl: thank you for providing your journal so that the life of a sailor aboard a destroyer escort in the WWII Pacific arena could be shared with everyone. It gives readers a chance to see the life of a sailor from that sailor's point of view. I also thank you for keeping your promise and telling me about it; "someday" finally arrived.

To my family: thanks to all of you for the motivation to keep those memorable years alive.



Chapter 1

BIG DECISION



I was playing with my Lincoln Logs, minding my own business. At age 11 it was tough being the youngest of three boys, though it had its advantages at times. I was taking such pride in steadying the last miniature log on my incredible fort, without any help from either of my siblings, when I was rudely interrupted. I heard what seemed to be a laughing ruckus coming from everyone downstairs (all but Dad of course).

Having been born nearly deaf in my right ear, I rarely could hear the family through the heat vent in the floor, let alone hear them above the World War II news that blared over the radio in the front room every evening after supper. But this particular evening was different. I raced to the banister, slid down, then ran into the kitchen. I wanted in on the fun, too, but it had gone silent for the moment. Everyone was still sitting around the table, picking at what crumbs were left from my oldest brother Chester’s birthday cake, which we had devoured earlier that evening to cap off the celebration. I took my seat between Chester and Mom.

Chester rapped me on the head and said, “Hey, Bean Belly.”

I enthusiastically replied, “Hey, Big Brother.” Truth be known, “Bean Belly” wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. I was 11-going-on-12, for crying out loud. I wanted him and Mike, the middle brother, to start calling me by my real name, Jeb. But somehow I knew better than to bring that up right then.

Chester looked at all of us as he continued smiling and spoke, “Since everyone’s in such a good mood...” A huff came from Dad, but Chester ignored it. “...I’ve got something really exciting to say.” He paused a bit too long.

“Well say it, boy,” Dad grunted without looking up from his newspaper.

Chester wasted no time after Dad’s request. “Now that I’m 18, and the United States has been involved with World War II since December 7, 1941, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I want to serve my country.”

I saw Mom beam with pride and fear all in the same fraction of a second. She said, “Well that’s nice dear. We’ve raised you to be a proud American, and as well you should be. This is a great country.” I saw her look around at some of the things we had, then at each one of us. “I think wanting to protect our freedom is a very noble thing for any young man to want to do.” Her voice trembled with her next words. “So we’ll just wait and see if the draft cards fall in your favor.” She patted Chester’s forearm with one hand and ran her other hand over her new hairdo. “Until then we can all rest easy and enjoy our time together.” She smiled right at Chester. “I know, with you being 18 now, you’re going to want to get out on your own soon, and I want to make certain you’re absolutely ready for that. I want to be sure you have all that you need. You’ll need a job, for one thing.” She chuckled. I saw Dad nod, and the smoke from his pipe whirled from the motion.

I looked back at Chester and saw his eyes widen a bit before he said, “And you see, that’s just it.” It appeared as though he was thinking about how to say his next words. “You’re right Mom. I do want to get out on my own, and I definitely need a job to do that.” He took her hand in his, though she did not look at him. She mashed a few more cake crumbs on her fork and brought them to her mouth as he said, “But here’s the thing. I don’t want to wait and take a chance on the draft.” He hesitated for only a second. “I’d like to enlist.”

I remember the sound of Mom’s fork hitting the floor and the sight of her mouth dropping open. I also remember Mike and me cheering at the tops of our lungs! Heck, more exciting than the news of our big brother enlisting was the fact that we both knew if he left, we’d each have our own room.

“I think you should join the Navy!” I blurted.

“Me too!” Mike shouted.

We had played countless hours together planning and strategizing as though we were captains on the mighty battleships. And now our big brother wanted to be one of those captains for real. How exciting! Plus, Mike and I had only heard on the radio about the great pilots, soldiers, and sailors. We’d never met one, let alone think about having one in our family.

“Now just a minute.” Chester smiled and continued. “Did you guys ever stop to think I’d like to have a say in the matter?”

“As would I!” Mom’s tone was harsh. We all backed down. “I don’t think you should go at all. And to tell you the truth, I’ve been fearing that the war would still be going on when you turned 18 and that the draft would take you away, possibly never to be seen again.” I saw her wipe a tear with her stubby little finger. “What do you say, Dad?”

Dad barely lowered the newspaper and looked over his eyeglasses. “Don’t care what he does, Mom. He’s a big boy now. In fact, he’s a man. He’s 18. He’s plenty capable of making his own decisions. But if you want my two cents worth, I’d have to say it’s a damned good idea.” Dad snapped the newspaper back into reading position. Mom glared at him.

I couldn’t help that my excitement for boats and the water spilled into my next words. “I think the Navy’d be great!” I saw Mom sit even straighter, and I tried to cover my enthusiasm with a quick, comforting addition, “Because it’d be the safest for sure.”

“Yeah, the safest for sure!” echoed Mike, in what I assumed was a rare attempt to actually help me and my cause. But then I remembered there was a bedroom at stake.

I took it down another notch. “And besides, Chester would make a really great sailor captain. Probably the best the Navy’s ever seen.” Mom’s expression never changed. I looked at Chester and said, “Imagine sailing a big ship out on the ocean. You’d get to see sharks, and eels, and maybe even a mermaid! You’d get to see the world.”

“Bean Belly, slow down. I’ve heard of putting the cart before the horse, but I’ve never witnessed putting the mermaid before the naval ship.” Dad got a kick out of that one.

Mom’s voice was sternly directed at me, as was her pointing finger. “He’s not going on a vacation. And the Navy doesn’t have luxury cruise ships. Have you forgotten we are at war? Putting your brother on a ship—or on the ground or up in the sky flying in one of those fancy airplanes—makes him nothing more than a target for those lousy Japs and Nazis.”

Dad chimed in, “Mom, you might want to watch your mouth.” I chuckled, but that only resulted in the stink-eye from Dad, so I shut up.

The next hour or so the conversation remained heated, but in the end Mom granted Chester’s wish, with no help from Dad. I leaped from my chair when Big Brother chose the Navy.




Chapter 2

HOPE I MAKE IT



November 19, 1943

The day had come. I’d always been forbidden to use Chester’s pomade, but I figured, since he’d left it on the dresser, it was fair game today; I wanted to look my best. Mike and I didn’t have suits and ties, but we each had a pair of dress pants and one nice button-down shirt. As I was slicking my hair back with the greasy goop, I could hear Mom drilling Chester as if he were already at boot camp. “Do you have your socks? Clean underwear? Your toothbrush?”

“Mom. I’ve got all I need. You’ve done a swell job.”

“But what if...”

“’But what if’ nothing. I’m sure they’ll provide me everything I need to get by. Remember, this is the Navy, not a luxury cruise ship.”

I stepped to Chester’s bedroom door in time to see Mom blush. She hung her head, and Chester kissed her cheek. She looked him in the eye and said, “Then come on. Let’s get downstairs.” I watched her straighten Chester’s collar, then I took off running before either of them could see me. I joined the others at the bottom of the stairs. We all stood at attention as Mom and Chester came down arm in arm.

“What’s this? A bon voyage party?” Chester laughed, as did we. He looked straight at me and said, “You look as dapper as anyone. Especially your hair.” I couldn’t tell if he noticed the pomade or not, but I really didn’t care. And that compliment stuck with me for a long time.

Chester’s red-headed beauty’s sweet voice melted any boy’s or man’s heart. “A bon voyage party? You might say that, sailor.”

“Sailor? But I don’t even have my uniform yet. How can you be sure I’ll be a sailor?”

“Who said anything about a uniform? I just called you sailor out of respect, though come to think of it, I should’ve called you captain.” Sue took a few sultry steps forward and planted one on his cheek. “You look mighty handsome, Navy man.” She stood on her tip toes, and her lips met his ear. Softer, in a sexier tone, she said, “You’d better be looking that handsome when you return home, because I’ll be here waiting for you.” Sue strutted back into our line. Even I could hear Chester’s heart beating faster.

Chester’s voice squeaked, “Well, I’ll certainly do my best.” He winked at her. He cleared his throat, turned and looked in the big mirror that hung in the tiny foyer, and wiped the ruby red lipstick from his cheek.

I saluted him. He returned a salute so sharp he looked like admiral material to me, uniform or not. I just knew he was going to be someone important.

Dad, Mom, Mike, Sue, me, and one of Big Brother’s school chums all took Chester to the bus station in Xenia, Ohio, not too long of a drive from our home in Osborn. Mom let him ride shotgun, and she sat in the middle. Because there were seven of us, and I was the littlest, Mom let me ride on Chester’s lap. When we reached the bus station Dad parked the car, and we made our way into the terminal through the crowd. So far so good, I thought. Chester still hadn’t mentioned anything about the forbidden pomade.

Chester went to the window and presented his ticket and papers. I saw the lady behind the window smile. As best I could read her lips, she said, “I just love handsome sailors. I always hate to approve their tickets outta here.” She handed him his boarding pass under the bars in the brass tray. He took it, and I saw him sigh. He turned and looked at all of us. It was the first time I had ever seen an expression like that on his face. It concerned me, but then he smiled right at me, and I knew everything was going to be okay.

“I guess this is it, huh?” Chester’s voice sounded surer than ever.

“I guess it is,” Mom said. I saw her swallow hard.

We went out to the lot where the bus was waiting. Plenty of hugs were going around, along with lots of tears being shed, though Chester and I were all smiles. Oddly, even Dad had tears in his eyes when he gave his oldest a firm handshake and wished him well.

Like Chester, I wasn’t sad. Instead I was so excited I could’ve exploded. I was proud as a peacock watching Big Brother climb the couple of stairs onto the bus. I couldn’t help but salute him again when he took his seat by the window right above us. Again, he saluted me back. I was doing fine, but then I saw a tear fall from his eye, and I lost it. I went to Mom, sobbing. I understood why he’d had that foreign expression earlier.

The bus engine revved, the door shut, and the wheels started turning. Mom let me run a ways down the street with a bunch of others chasing after the bus. The crowd came to a halt, and I broke through everyone to the front of the line. I waved until the bus crested the hill and turned the corner out of sight.

Not much was said as we returned to the car. We all held hands. I mostly remember the milling sounds of the dissipating crowd. I also heard quite a few sniffles from those passing by.

This time Mom rode shotgun, and I sat between her and Dad. Sue sat between the other boys in the back. It seemed like the ride was taking a lot longer to get home than it had to get there. To make it seem even longer, Dad stopped for gas at the corner filling station. But finally I saw our driveway.

Mom had rolled out noodles that morning, and they were still drying on the kitchen counter when we got home. She sliced them and put them to boiling. It didn’t take her long to boil the chicken in another pot, pull it, and then add it to the noodles. I saw her throw a stick of butter on top of the chicken and noodles along with some salt and pepper and then cover the pot while she mashed the potatoes. It was Chester’s favorite meal, as well as mine. I wanted to think she’d made it for me because she knew I’d need cheering up, but she’d probably made it in honor of Chester.

Mom had invited Sue and Big Brother’s school chum to stay for food. We sat down at the table, and I felt funny with Chester’s chair empty for the first time. I noticed Mom had set a place at Chester’s chair, and that’s when I realized the chicken and noodles were in honor of him.

Dad reached out, and we all joined hands. He bowed his head; we all followed suit. The prayer he prayed at that supper sounded like one from a man who’d followed God all of his life. It was the first time I’d ever heard Dad talk to God that way.

There was no conversation, no “mmm’s” when dessert was served. The occasional request for a dish to be passed echoed through the seemingly empty house. The only other sounds were of silverware clinking on the plates and ice cubes melting and sliding down the insides of the glasses.

When supper was over Dad turned on the radio. We all gathered around and listened to the turmoil that had happened in other parts of the world that day. Even though no one spoke, I was certain we were all thinking the same thing: God, please watch over Chester. I’d never heard the radio knob click so loud when Dad turned it off.

Sue and Chester’s school chum let themselves out. Before they could get into the car, I ran to the door and out onto the sidewalk. I shouted, “Thanks for being there for Big Brother today. I know it meant a lot to him. But don’t worry, he’s tough! We’ll hear from him soon, I just know it. All we have to do is wait.” I remember seeing them smile through their tears and nod. They came back and hugged me and told me a couple of the funniest stories I’d ever heard about Chester. They managed to fill the pit in my stomach, for the moment, with joy.

I went back into the house and straight up to Mike’s and my room. Mike was already sniffling under his covers. I said nothing to him; what could I say? I put my pajamas on and hopped under my covers. Unwanted tears drenched my pillow. When I reached my hand under my pillow I felt something crinkle. I pulled out a note, held it up to the window, and the moonlight shone just enough for me to see.

Dear Bean Belly, I have a picture of you and Mike tucked away in my billfold next to Mom and Dad’s, along with one of Sue. I know I never said it, but I want you to know that I love you with all of my heart. Take care of Mike. I know he’s hurting bad from “losing” me today. This now makes him the oldest, and I don’t think he thought about that until later. But I know you’re the strong one and will help him be the leader. Hang in there for Mom and Dad, too. I’ll be sure and write to you as soon as I can, just like I said I would.

Now get some sleep, you goofy kid!

All my love,

Chester.

I sighed and choked back yet another lump. It had been a very emotional day.




Chapter 3

FIRST LETTER



The first weekend after Big Brother had left, Mom helped Mike and me separate our stuff, and Dad helped move the furniture so we could get situated in our own rooms. It wasn’t as thrilling as I’d first thought it’d be. Oh, I was happy to move into Chester’s room, but it was tough dealing with the excitement and sadness that’d gotten all jumbled up inside of me during the process. I remember hanging my bulletin board—now void of my creative artwork and a ribbon I’d received in second grade for drawing the best animal—in my new room, next to my roll-top desk. The bulletin board was where I’d hang all of the letters Chester had promised he’d send.

I shoved my bed into the dormer, putting the foot of it by the window so when I lay in it each night I’d be facing the window and could look out and see the same stars that Chester would be seeing. Somehow, in my mind, that helped me not miss him quite so much. I promised Chester in my heart that I’d check the mailbox every day when I got home from school.



A FEW WEEKS HAD PASSED. It being a Saturday, I could watch for the mailman. He’d no sooner finished loading the big metal box than I was out the door. I dropped the mailbox lid, looked inside, and pulled out a few envelopes. I went racing back into the house shouting, “It’s here! It’s here!” I dashed into the front room where everybody was sitting and nearly tripped over the footstool. 

“Slow down, young man. You know you’re not to run in the house,” Mom said. “What’s here?”

I stopped and caught my breath. “The first letter from Big Brother!” I held it up with pride. “Can I open it?”

Mom barely laughed and said, “I suppose so.”

I tore off the end of the envelope and handed the narrow strip to Mike. I pulled the letter from the envelope and handed it, empty, to Mike as well. I saw him roll his eyes. I remember breathing so fast I began to feel like I was going to pass out, but I couldn’t help it knowing that I was holding the first piece of anything we’d received from Chester. And the fact that it was something Big Brother had last touched sent me over the top. I held it to my nose and sniffed the paper. I don’t know if it really did smell like Chester, but it sure did in my mind. I noticed Dad put his paper down; he’d become fully attentive to me. I instantly unfolded the letter and began to read it to myself.

“Well, can the rest of us hear what he has to say?” Dad asked.


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