On December 7, 1941, a key nation secured membership to the World War II Club. The inductee was the U.S. and the admission requirement was met through the sinking of its fleet at Pearl Harbor.
The attack on the naval base had been executed in a process similar to the means employed by a pack of hungry sharks. The Japanese banded together, targeted their prey, and achieved their objective by swallowing an entire fleet whole. Fours years of war followed and thousands of Americans were called upon to defend a nation and a world. A small man with black hair and silver eyes was one such recruit. To soldiers, he was known as “Ace.” To me, he was known as “Pa.”
My grandfather survived the war, and though he has been dead thirteen years, I still smell the aroma of the cup of coffee that never left his side. If I squint and think of yesterday, I see the haze of smoke that always arose from a half-burnt cigarette. When I close my eyes and listen, I hear myself asking him to tell that shark story one more time. When asked to retell the encounter, Ace would grin, chuckle softly, and sip his coffee before beginning. Though worthy opponents, the sharks in his story were not the Japanese.
In the midst of the war-ravaged Pacific, Ace and several friends were atop a cliff, daring one another to dive into the ocean to rescue their small boat that had drifted from the desolate island. Ace was resolved to volunteer for the task, but before he made a verbal statement or decision, he always took a long drag on his cigarette and sipped from his bottomless coffee cup. Coffee was not available, so he settled for a cigarette. As the rolled addiction ignited by way of a hastily struck match, Ace was shoved over the edge of the cliff.
Neither the fall nor the fear of being unable to swim is reason to revere this story. Ace survived the premature dive, and he was an excellent swimmer. He had a way of surging through the water like a bobbing frog, and if one were not careful, one would drown in the water parted by his strong, jutting chin.
“Ace,” one of the men shouted from the cliff. “Ace, hurry up, there’s sharks down there.”
The human frog stopped swimming and looked back at the island. Three grey fins seared through the waves near the rocks several yards behind him. Determined to thwart his friends’ cruel joke, Ace shot through the water and headed for the boat.
Despite his speed and agility, one might doubt the presence of sharks or the tale itself. Yet, Ace was indeed a fast swimmer. He was four times my age when we raced and swam together with our arms linked. In the first scenario I never won and in the second he usually ended up tugging me along because I was unable to keep up with him.
To conclude, Ace eluded his ravenous pursuers and reached the boat before it drifted into deep water. Was Ace quivering with fear when he reached the boat? Was he able to avoid the sharks when paddling to his friends waiting for him on the shore? To answer the first question, Ace was laughing when he reached the boat which is not typical of someone afraid of being eaten by sharks. Why would he laugh? The explanation is found in the answer to the second question which can be summarized by stating I hope Ace’s friends could swim because that is what he made them do.
If you enjoyed this tale about my grandfather, you can read more about his life in my latest book, Haunted Voices from My Past: True Narratives of an Ohio Family. Within its cover are the chilling stories: “Railway Nightmare,” “Another Hitchhiker from Hell,” and the most terrifying incident he experienced, entitled “Ace and the Devil.” Each of these accounts awakens the supernatural and macabre.
After ordering, be sure to read “A Tribute to Ace,” the blog that inspired this latest entry.
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