Greg Lippert and Robert Haydon Jones

Greg Lippert
Inspiration piece

By Robert Haydon Jones

Jimmy O’Hara was a couple of months shy of turning four when World War 11 began about three weeks before Christmas. At the time, Jimmy was very, very happy. He was playing underneath the kitchen table that afternoon while his brilliant, beautiful, mother began to ready Sunday dinner.

Jimmy and his Mom were listening to lovely music on the radio. Jimmy’s father was at the New York Yankee football game at the Polo Grounds.

Suddenly, the music stopped and a man said he was interrupting to announce that the Japanese had just bombed the American Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Soon, there were many more announcements.
It was all bad news.

Then Jimmy’s father came rushing in. The first thing he did was to put Jimmy in the playpen. Jimmy heard his father say he didn’t want to frighten him.

That summer, Jimmy was at the seashore with his mother and her family when the shocking news came that his cousin, Jay Lennon, a Marine, had been killed in the Solomon Islands.

It was hard to believe. Jay was a big strong man. He was the NCAA Heavyweight Boxing Champion. A sniper had wounded him and then his platoon had been overrun. The Japs had bayonetted him. Now, Jay’s mother, Aunt Eleanor, was a Gold Star Mother.

Jimmy had been an expert reader since he was only four and a half. His ability was a gift but it was also a curse. He saw a lot. But no one really knew he was watching.

He had seen the first photos of American war dead in Life Magazine. The High Command had decided that the General Public was too insulated from the reality – and so they rescinded the prohibition that forbade the media from showing casualties.

Life Magazine ran a feature showing three GI’s lying dead face down at the shoreline of a small island near New Guinea. The bodies had been partially silted over. There were rents in their clothing where they had been struck by bullets. One of the fallen soldier’s legs was bent at an unnatural angle. Jimmy decided that probably he was dead when he fell and that was why his leg had bent that way.

That night before he went to sleep, Jimmy bent his left leg the same way. He wanted to honor the dead soldier. Jimmy slept with his leg bent that way for years and years. Even when he was in the Marines, when he went to sleep, Jimmy bent his leg that special way.

Jimmy’s Dad was offered a commission in the Marines, but his eyes were way too weak. He trained with the National Guard and did war work for the government as a Dollar-A-Year executive. Jimmy and his Mom were real glad his dad could stay at home.

The Nazis bombed England every day. A lot of people were killed. After a while, the English moved their children to the country away from the bombs.

Jimmy saw a picture from China where scores of mostly women and children were lying there all jumbled up right on the steps of a big building. They had been killed in an air raid It was very scary.

Uncle Jerry, his Mom’s younger brother, enlisted in the Army Air Force. He was very handsome and very kind to Jimmy. They used to take long walks to the lake together. The night before he left for training, Jerry played the piano and sang some of Jimmy’s favorites. The last song he sang was Tit Willow from the Mikado.

Jimmy saw a picture of a Japanese officer with a long sword. He was about to cut off the head of an Australian pilot.

Jimmy saw a picture of a Nazi who had burned up in North Africa when he was only half away out of his tank.

Jimmy saw a picture of an American bomber after it had crashed and burned. You could see the burned up body of an American crewman.

One day, Jimmy saw more than eighty ships at anchor in the Hudson River. They looked sleek and dangerous. They were getting ready for the Invasion.

Mr. Beachcroft, the brother of a neighbor, was in the Merchant Marine. He had just returned from Russia in March. He had been torpedoed twice on the Murmansk Run and had survived 16 days in an open lifeboat in February in the Arctic Sea. He gave Jimmy some interesting trinkets, which Jimmy still has.

Later that spring, Vivian Massey, his Mom’s dearest friend, was killed in an Airline crash. She and her husband were on an airliner that vanished on a flight over the Gulf of Mexico. No trace of the plane was ever found. His mom kept on hoping and praying for quite a while.

On D-Day, General Eisenhower spoke of the invasion as a great crusade. It was a very risky proposition. Ike said that he had confidence the Allies would prevail, but if they didn’t – he would accept the blame.

The allies did establish a beachhead but it came at a frightful cost. The day after the landing Jimmy went with his mother and grandmother to the church for a special service of Thanksgiving. The church was jammed. A lot of people wept.

Jimmy kept on following the war straight through to the end. He knew this War backwards and forwards.

When the old films came on TV during the 75th anniversary of the landings at Normandy on D-Day in 2019, Jimmy O’Hara knew them all by heart. In the first long shot from the beach of the first waves in, two men would be shot just off the water’s edge –- one of these soldiers would get right up and be shot again.

Next, several men would drag a drowning officer out of the water and up on the beach and save him. Right about here, they would cut to scores of American bodies bobbing off shore. There were a lot of dead fish strewn on the beach.

There would be shots of corpsmen working on the wounded on the LST’s ferrying them back out to the Hospital ships. Some of the wounded were dead.

Usually, the next scenes were of a crude wire enclosure crowded with Nazi troops who had surrendered. A few of these soldiers had bandaged wounds. All of the Nazi soldiers appeared to be relatively happy.

Jimmy and his wife and their close friends, Bob and Gay Sinclair, from La Jolla, visited the Normandy beaches 67 years after the landings. Jimmy hired a guide, a former member of the British Special Forces, to take them through.

Afterward, Bob and Jimmy stood at the upper reaches of the cemetery and looked out at the 9,387 graves. Mostly young men. Gone forever.

“We won the battle,” Jimmy said. “We won the war. Why am I overwhelmed by sorrow?”

The guide had a quick retort.

“Tis the true nature of the beast.”

Jimmy couldn’t say he was wrong.


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  1. Posted June 19, 2019 at 4:48 pm | #

    I like in this how Jimmy speaks in the staccato of a way to observant 4 to 9 year old — observations without true comprehension, emotion without context, instead of in his grizzled retrospective voice. It reads like a Black and white Life Magazine feature snd less like a vivid dream in grown up color. How dare we, Jimmy might say, have the temerity to presume that adult seasoning and sensibilities could ever rationalize much less truly understand the horror of 1939 to 1945. We’ll done.

  2. Posted June 20, 2019 at 8:17 am | #

    A fitting remembrance for those of us whose parents lived it, and maybe died for it. Bob always gets the zeitgeist right.

  3. Posted June 25, 2019 at 3:30 pm | #

    Well done! I’m just a few years too young to have Jimmy’s early recollections, though the war haunted me through the 40s and thereafter, just as it did him. A tale well told.

  4. Posted July 2, 2019 at 12:27 pm | #

    The brutally overwhelming reality of war magnified through the eyes of a four year old boy. It’s a haunting perspective. And how the young boy placed his leg to go to sleep to honor the felled soldier — wow! Gut wrenching detail. Excellent art work, too.

  5. Posted July 11, 2019 at 4:48 pm | #

    Shows us the mind of the child blessed with the gift of literacy the horror of war magnified in his mind. The best of Jones once more