John’s mind was too occupied by the gray ship in the distance to respond to his grandson. The longer John looked at the ship, the bigger the knot in his stomach grew. Hoping not to betray his unease, he spoke to his daughter, Mary, and her husband, Tom. “You know, we can go someplace else. You don’t have to put yourselves out for me.”
“Nonsense,” said Mary. “We’ve been doing a lot on this trip for us. We picked this just for you. Plus, Billy is really excited to see a ship that’s just like the one you served on.”
“Okay,” John said as he undid his seatbelt. “But we don’t have to spend a lot of time here.” He got out of the backseat and followed Billy, Mary, and Tom to the ticket line. After a few minutes, John raised his head and looked at the WWII battleship sitting moored and ready to take on tourists. His thoughts went back to a 1943 naval yard.
Hot standing on the dock waiting for boarding. “John Pulaski reporting for duty.” Salute given and returned.
“Get onboard, Ski,” said the officer of the day.
As Tom handed him a ticket, John felt as if he were in two places at the same time. “Let’s go, Dad,” said Tom. John and his family started up the ramp to the ship.
Salty air. Cool ocean breeze. Ship underway.
“Oh boy! Look at those guns,” said Billy as they toured the deck.
Sound of enemy aircraft. Sirens wail. “All hands to battle stations!”
“Billy, stand in front of the guns,” said Mary. “I want to take a picture.”
Bombs exploding. Metal twisting, jarring.
“Look at this kitchen,” said Tom. “I bet you had some pretty bad meals while you were in the Navy.”
“Uh huh,” replied John.
Smoke filled corridors. Choking, coughing. Climb up the ladder.
“What does that plaque say, Billy?” asked Mary.
“Come and see. It’s really cool.”
Guns firing. “Lead, dammit! Lead!” Blood on the deck.
“Let’s go look at the plane,” said Billy.
Two airplanes down. One to go. It turns. Heading straight in.
“Mary, stand with your father so I can take your picture together.”
More gunfire. Plane is hit. Trailing smoke. “Hit the deck!”
“What’s over there, Billy?”
Bodies in the water. Our guys and theirs. Smell of hot metal and burning flesh.
“It’s getting late,” said Mary. “I want to go to the gift shop before we leave.”
“Okay,” replied Tom. “You ready to go, Dad?”
“I bet seeing this brought back some memories, eh Dad?”
“A few.” John cleared his throat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Come on, Billy. Let’s help your mother pick out another snow globe for her collection.”