May 22, 2010

posted by caroline picard

Lately I’ve been getting some story submissions in my inbox. Often they appear like small and unexpected gifts–little windows into other worlds. In any case, what follows is one such story. Thanks for the story, Jim!

A little bit about Jim Hays: “I was born in 1933 and raised in the deep, back woods of East Texas in a one room shack. We had no electricity, running water, television, radio, electronic games nor air conditioning. In fact we had never heard of those things. I graduated from High school in 1950 and after working one year in Dallas, I joined the Air Force and became a gunner on a B-29 and flew 23 combat missions over North Korea. Shortly after returning to the U.S I married my sweetheart whom I met while stationed at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio. In 1960 I Joined the Univac Division of Sperry Rand as an electronics technician. There I met and worked with some of the early computer pioneers including J. Presper Eckert one of the inventors of ENIAC, the first electronic computers. I later got in sales and eventually became the Southwest Regional Federal Government marketing manager for Univac. I’m still married to the same woman and we have three children, ten grandchildren and three great grandchildren. I started writing as a hobby after retiring from the computer business. I’ve won a few awards for poetry and have sold a couple of short stories (humor).”



Oh, America, in the quiet of night,
I f we listen with our hearts,
we can hear doleful sounds
of dying men, their souls wandering
o’er far away fields, in Vietnam.
They are our sons, crying to be heard,
who lived and fought and died for us.
No braver men lived or suffered more.
They died as hard as anyone
at Shiloh or Argonne or Normandy.
They hover over us now.
They hover over our troops
who fight America’s battles,
on lonely fields in strange places…
and die… for us.
Oh, America, hear them… hear them…
Feel their pain… the betrayal,
the barbs from hateful tongues,
hurt worse than wounds from guns.
Oh tortured souls, forgive us… Forgive us…Glory and Fame
“Hide! Hide! It’s a Jap Zero!” Bobby Joe’s voice was shrill and excited. This was the first enemy fighter we had seen in almost a week.

“No! It’s a Messerschmitt! We’re fightin Germans this week,” I said, as we hid between rows of tall cotton. Peeking upward through the colorful blossoms, we aimed and fired our broomstick machine guns at the intruder, making the appropriate staccato sounds.

“I got ’im. I got ’im,” Bobby Joe said.

“Naw,” I said, “I got ’im.”

“Ya’ll are both wrong, idiots,” came a voice from out of nowhere. “You both missed! And ya’ll sounded more like sheep bleatin than machine guns. And it ain’t a German or Jap plane. It’s an AT6 trainer from that British flying school at Terrell.” (When World War II started, British Royal Air Force (RAF) officials decided to train aircrews outside of England. Their first such school was located in nearby Terrell, Texas.)

The voice was Walter, Bobby’s fourteen year old, know it all brother, whom we both despised. He constantly teased and harassed us and hid our machine guns. But we didn’t care what Walter said! We had fought bravely in the European and Pacific theaters and were highly decorated war heroes. We had won Medals of Honor, Silver Stars and many lesser medals. Bobby even got a purple heart, after stepping on a barbed wire land mine. (We were two of a very few soldiers brave and tough enough to fight bare footed!) The famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, had crawled under heavy machine gun fire to our fox hole to interview us. Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur frequently called on us for advice, when preparing invasions. We were also highly skilled fighter pilots and had become aces, having shot down Messerschmitts, Fokkers and Zeroes.

When the war first started, it was very scary for America. The Allies were on the defensive and many Americans fully expected an invasion, or at least bomber attacks, on the mainland. Fortunately, that never happened. By 1943 the war had begun to turn in our favor and all sorts of heroes were being hailed. Bobby and I both had older brothers in the war, and though our families were always worried about them, we were excited and very proud of them. To all of us, but particularly to the younger ones, they were great heroes whose lives were filled with adventure, glory and fame, good lures for young men.

After the Korean War started, and when Bobby Joe turned eighteen, he didn’t hesitate, he joined the Army. When I turned eighteen, the same lure cast its spell over me and I followed Bobby into the military. But instead of the army, my lure was the Air Force. I kept thinking about the airplanes we used to shoot down and the fun those pilots were having up there.

Sadly, a couple of months later, Bobby Joe’s quest for fame and glory ended up much differently than did mine. While I’m in gunnery training in Colorado, snug and safe, Bobby Joe sits shivering in his tent, on a faraway hill, in that little country of Korea. It’s a bitter, cold night. He’s thinking about his mom and his family and misses them terribly. The glamour of war has faded and he wishes with all his heart to be at home tearing into one of his mom’s delicious meals. Visions of a platter of her fried chicken, a big bowl of mashed potatoes and a plate of homemade biscuits almost overwhelm him. He’s a man now, but deep inside him is a little boy crying. On the outside, he manages somehow to contain his disconsolation.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a brilliant, white flare bursts a few hundred feet overhead. The bright glare snatches away the cloak of night, exposing him and his fellow soldiers to the eyes of their foe. He scurries to the nearest bunker and huddles there, shaken by a deep, scarring fear, and awaits what he knows is coming. A moment later the horizon glows and explodes in wrenching fury. Terror stomps in on angry feet, as fiery tongues of long guns lash out to devour their prey. Deafening voices of destruction shout down the shocked air and frightened earth trembles. The terrible onslaught grinds men, machines and weapons into the earth’s bleeding soil. Red robes of fire wrap the hill in their burning folds and furious winds, born from the fire, lift clouds of debris. Sharp shards of metal and dirt and parts of people shower the earth. All night through the hill is pounded by round after round, from land and sea and air. The ground sobs in awful convulsions as the doorway of Hell opens. Blow after blow of shot and shell tear at nerve and flesh and steel. The stench of sulfur and dust and burning flesh is overpowering. Then, as quickly as it started, the thunder fades into distant hills and bursting shells now fall on other fields.
Dawn creeps in, hesitating, through a dirty fog. Death hangs in the now still air and a strange quietness captures the morning. Bobby Joe lies on his back in the mud, holding his intestines in his hands. He stares with vacant eyes into the early dawn, the shock of dying still written on his boyish face. His last words, now in past worlds, were the same as his first. “Mommy… Mommy..”

The skating rink was humming. There were a number of GIs there, with both the Army and Air Force well represented. That was not surprising, since San Antonio had several Army and Air Force bases in the area. Andy and I skated around talking and keeping our eyes out for females whom we would like to meet. As I was lumbering along on creaky, rented skates, I saw an absolutely stunning angel with long dark curly hair, beautiful figure and hypnotic green eyes, glide by on silken wings. I was spellbound. I marveled at her grace and beauty. Was this the intersection of space and time where my life would really begin? Was this magnificent creation, this gift from God meant for me? I thought she noticed me, but wasn’t sure. I became so intent on watching her that I ran into some poor soul who happened to be in front of me. I made some weak apology, not even noticing if the person was male or female. My eyes would not leave that beautiful being whom I knew that I had to meet. My brain was saying, “She’s out of your league,” but my heart was not listening. I just knew that she would some day be my wife.

The heavens’ starry calm, which God had so beautifully crafted, was shattered by a man made hell of exploding bombs, bullets and a burning plane that began to rain fire onto the tortured earth below. The flak, the red tracers, the explosions, the aircraft breaking up and the flaming pieces falling, seemed to take forever. It was as though the raining fire was never going to end. I watched in horrified shock. One of the worst chambers of hell is that one in which a person has to sit and watch his friends falling in flames and feeling guilty for being glad it was not him. I felt terribly alone and empty. My heart went out for that crew, but I was glad it was not the Babe that was helplessly plummeting to earth in fiery fragments. How does one handle sorrow and euphoria at the same time? Once again I felt a consuming emptiness, a crushing, oppressive loneliness that seemed to suffocate my very soul. That scene, along with the helpless feeling it provoked, became a recurring nightmare for me. For years afterward I had nightmares of planes crashing, while I stood by helplessly watching, knowing people inside were dying.
While at Fairchild, something else happened to me that came as a total surprise. I so loved Ann, that I felt that there was no way that could happen again. But it did! There at Fairchild Air Force Base, I fell in love with someone else. It happened a short time before I was scheduled to leave the Air Force. She was someone whom I met at Fairchild and she had quite an impact on me. Even Ann, who got to see her, understood how I could fall for her. She was warm and vibrant with gorgeous dark eyes and soft, smooth skin. Simply put, she was very beautiful, even if somewhat conceited and demanding. Nevertheless, I was hooked. I could not keep my eyes off her nor stay away from her. This was something new and serious, but Ann and I had a very good relationship and even though the situation did cause quite a few problems, we managed to work it out amicably. We stayed together and even brought my new love into our home. But what else could we do? The young lady
was so fetching and persuasive, that we decided to keep her for the next eighteen or so years, or until she finished her education. Not surprising, she was just the first of a long line of loves for Ann and I.


  1. todd stivers Says:

    Excellent! where may I get acopy of this online. I’m currently deployed and would love to read more.

  2. Willfred F. Bigott Says:

    This is an inspiring story, thank you for sharing this. It is so meaningful and speaks highly of who you really are. What a Blessing, thank you.

  3. Willfred F. Bigott Says:

    Thank you for a most meaningful story, it is a Blessing that you are to all who reads this story. Thank you for sharing. It inspires people to do better with their lives.

  4. Kim Skipper Says:

    God Bless You – thank you for your service and writing your story and poems. My husband retired on January 1, 2000 after 24 years in the air force. He was fortunate to never see battle during his time of service but we have the deepest love and respect to all our American Heroes that gave all, served and were fortunate to come home and those serving today.

    Hugs from Eagle River, Alaska

    Kim and Steve Skipper

  5. Randall DeRubeis Says:

    That last paragraph….that is SOME paragraph! Well done sir!
    Randall DeRubeis

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