For some number of years, I had a neighbor whom I’d consider a character. And through my life, I have come to believe that those are the best kind of people to know.
He wasn’t always a favorite of our homeowner’s association, as he would be working on some junky car or truck in his driveway. He’d be covered in dirt and grease – filthy but happy. After I’d offer him a beer he’d talk about some of his past.
I enjoyed his company.
When I first met him, I thought he was full of – well, in loftier terms, hyperbole. But his stories involved a lot of self-deprecation which makes me think they were true.
Braggarts are not known for self-deprecation.
And Speed could laugh at himself.
Since he didn’t care much for his given name, he adopted the nickname of “Speed”.
Or maybe he got his nickname in the Marines, which he joined at age 16. The times were desperate and recruiters didn’t dig too much into an applicant’s stated age. He started out there as a tanker.
He told me of places like Tarawa, which I knew to be a hellhole for the Marines trying to get ashore. Because so many landing craft got stuck on the coral reefs in the low tide , the Marines had to walk the last few 100 yards against withering machine gun fire. Hundreds never left the water…
I asked him how he managed to survive and he said that he would take a breath, go under water with his rifle and full pack, and walk or crawl under the water and out of sight of the Japanese. He’d come up for a breath, then down again.
But the funniest story of his involved his time in New Zealand. The Marines used New Zealand as a staging point before going to battle.
He was talking about being in formation on a parade ground just before being deployed. They are in one long line listening to the Marine Gunner (a rank I had never heard of in the Army) – anyway the Gunner is telling them what to expect as they go to their battle.
While the Gunner is giving the orientation someone notices a flock of ducks overhead. You can sense some tension and suddenly 1 Marine raises his weapon and fires at the ducks. After that shot other shots are slowly starting down the long line…M1s, .45s, Thompsons.
Through this barrage not one duck is hit.
The ducks pass, the window of opportunity is gone, the firing finally stops, and the Gunner is livid.
“I don’t know what I hate more – that you broke discipline or not a damned one of you could hit a duck!”
As far as I know, Speed is still around in parts unknown.