Thursday, February 7, 2013

How My Uncle Eddie Promoted World Peace and Understanding During World War Two; or Stories I Like, Yet Am Not Entirely Convinced They Are True, Part Four

My Great Uncle Eddie was awesome. He was a retired attorney for as long as I was aware of him, and in my mind was the origin of all those "Now I may be just a simple country lawyer" tropes. Always wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, thick glasses and short cut white hair, he was a favorite of all the kids in the family.

Uncle Eddie owned a big spread of land with a house that was full of stuff; he was a hoarder before hoarding was cool. As kids, we'd drive through the orange groves (this was the late '70s/early '80s when kids were allowed to do stuff like that) or explore his garage which was full of old cars and boats or just wander around the property. I learned to drive a bulldozer there once. Like I said, different times.

Eddie had a big, booming voice, and would frequently start his stories with an exclamation that sounded like "Weayah," sort of a mixture of well and yeah.

Oh yeah, the stories.

Uncle Eddie loved to talk. His stories were legendary - when I was older he'd always start out by saying, "I hear you're studying journalism at the University of Florida." I'd say yes, and he'd be off. He'd start by talking about I.F. Stone (look him up, dummies), his trips to Cuba, Castro, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, court cases he was following in the paper, honestly, just about every topic or historical figure under the sun, never really finishing up one story before going off into another. By this time I was glancing around for a cousin or sister to pawn him off on. Looking back, I feel bad about this, because I really enjoyed his roundabout jaunts through personal and  U.S. history and now wish I had given him more time.

About a decade before Uncle Eddie died, my dad got into genealogy and thought it would be a good idea to capture some of Uncle Eddie's stories on video while he was still around. Dad wanted to focus on Uncle Eddie's World War Two stories, which apparently he would bring up almost as often as he did local court cases.

So dad filmed Uncle Eddie sitting on a couch, while dad questioned him off-camera and attempted to keep him on topic.

Best part to my sister and I watching later was Uncle Eddie discussing  his training. "Well, I met me a little nurse in San Francisco, and I was with her about ...three days."

After hanging out in San Francisco, Uncle Eddie was transferred to the Philippines, where he flew one of the coolest looking planes ever, the P-38 Lightning. Check it out:
Seriously, it's like someone took a bunch of awesome looking planes and glued them all together.

I knew about the P-38, because Uncle Eddie had told me about it years ago. Every time I'd see a picture of one, I'd imagine his voice coming through the intercom: "Weayah, just bombed us a little Japanese battleship. Kinda like when I was at the 4H Fair and saw this prize-winning steer. You know who never had any use for fairs was that ol' Abraham Lincoln..."

The part of Uncle Eddie's story that stayed with me to this day was the story of one of his last flights. He was alone and came across a lone Japanese Zero. Uncle Eddie looked at the pilot, the Japanese pilot looked at Uncle Eddie, and they both gave a 'I don't see you if you don't see me' gesture and turned around.

I liked the idea of Uncle Eddie and this unknown Japanese pilot having their own silent Christmas Truce, both of them surviving the war and going on to prosper in their own countries, perhaps thinking every once in a while of what might have happened on that day. Did the Japanese pilot ever look out into the night sky and thank Uncle Eddie for not shooting him down over the Pacific Ocean? Did Uncle Eddie pause during one of his stories and wonder what caused him to not pull the trigger?

But the more I thought about it, the more certain details bothered me. Like, why would Uncle Eddie be out all alone? And how close would he have to be to the Japanese pilot for them to see each other? Why would the Japanese pilot be all alone?

In the spirit of hard-hitting investigative journalism, I searched tirelessly through yellowing Department of Defense records until I uncovered the truth*. According to my research, the P-38 was notoriously quiet, so it is conceivable that Uncle Eddie could have possibly snuck up on the Japanese pilot. They were also used for reconnaissance, so that would explain him being alone.

Based on these two facts, I declare Uncle Eddie's story to be 100 percent true, the highest possible rating this series can bestow, and the only one I have handed out. True, I could have done a bit more verification, but hey, it's Uncle Eddie. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

I am also giving his three-day San Francisco nurse story a 100 percent true rating, and two thumbs up for studliness. High five, Uncle Eddie!

*OK, a five second Wikipedia search.

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