I awoke from my sleep screaming, “No Master!” Limpy’s piercing eyes and sadistic smile were vivid as he propelled a bamboo pole, in a slashing motion. His target was my abdomen. I suffered a reoccurrence of a bad dream. Recollections of events from my distant past resurfaced.
A beam of morning sunlight penetrated the edges of the closed window shade, and I noticed my body was saturated by the bed sheets beneath me. The fabric was soaked wet from my own sweat. My hand trembled as I reached to wipe my brow dry. It hadn’t been a hot night. My restless sleep and nightmares caused heavy perspiration. Demons were back. They were a common occurrence nearly two decades ago. I thought they were gone forever, but anxiety from last night’s phone call with my son Doug rekindled my emotions and unlocked memories I had succeeded to pigeonhole.
Doug called to say he would be deploying to Vietnam. He was coming home on a thirty day leave before shipping out. He had just completed Army Special Forces training, was awarded his Green Beret and was elevated in rank to Sergeant. Once he would arrive in Vietnam, I feared he would be sent on missions behind enemy lines. The probability of his being captured would be much higher than for a typical soldier. I had been a POW of the Japanese during the Second World War. Having personally experienced inhumane brutalities during captivity, I feared Doug could be subjected to the same type of torture.
Following my captivity, only once did I talk about my seventeen months of misery. It was during a debriefing conducted by an army intelligence officer. Reporters from newspapers hounded me for my story, but I refused their requests. I wanted to forget. I also didn’t want to portray the lack of humanity I experienced.
One reason I survived was faith I had in the Lord. I’m sure God didn’t want me to talk about my experiences… unless… talking about it could help to protect another person. I never even told my wife Emma, but I struggled through the night with my thoughts of talking to Doug. Could what I learned about survival possibly save Doug’s life should the worst happen to him in Vietnam?
I rolled over on the wet sheets expecting to see Emma next to me. She was not in bed. It was later in the morning than I would normally climb out of bed. The cows needed to be milked, and Emma and our daughter, Mary, were probably in the barn.
I stumbled from bed to the window and opened the shade. The cows were already parading from the corral next to the barn back to pasture. Aroma of percolating coffee caught my attention. I realized the milking was complete as I made my way to the bath room to shave and shower.
The smell of frying bacon welcomed me as I entered the Kitchen. Emma smiled as she looked up from her attention to the frying pan and stated, “Good morning Love. You had a rough night.”
I replied as I walked over to kiss her lips, “Good morning. It wasn’t one of my better ones.” I expected to see Mary in the kitchen, but she wasn’t. “Has Mary left for school?”
“This is Saturday… no school today. She walked down the lane to pick up the morning newspaper. We heard you showering, so she figured you might like to read the paper with your breakfast.”
I’m sure I showed a smile as I commented, “I’m blessed with two wonderful women.”
Emma replied as she chuckled, “And don’t you forget it Grant Metzger. Have a seat. Your breakfast is about ready.”
“How did you sleep?” I asked while pouring myself a cup of coffee.
An expression of concern was evident on Emma’s face. “Not well. It’s been a long time since you’ve been so restless. Are you okay?”
“I think I’ll be okay. Doug’s orders brought back some old anxieties.”
Emma walked over to me and rested her hands on my shoulders. “I’m concerned too.”
I reached up with my hands clutching both of hers. “Emma, I’m thinking about having a long talk with Doug. I believe if I tell him about Burma, it may provide knowledge that could help to protect him.”
Emma squeezed my hands and stated, “Do what you think is best. When do you plan on talking with him? We want to make sure his leave is as pleasant as possible before he heads off to war.”
“I’d like to take a day and go fishing on the Grand River.”
“Oh…” Emma smiled as she commented “…Doug will love that.”
“The steelhead should be running. It’s that time of the year.” I laughed and continued, “Doug might be able to pull in a thirty to forty inch trophy. That would give him something to remember.”
Mary entered the door from the porch and darted to me placing a kiss on my cheek as she addressed me, “Good morning Daddy.” She sat the newspaper on the table.
“Good morning princess,” I replied. “Thank you… and your mother too… for milking the cows this morning.” I smiled at Mary and continued, “I know you can’t wait to see your brother, but someone needs to milk the cows this evening. It may seem cruel, but you’ll have to stay home when your mom and I pick up Doug.”
Emma added as she sat three breakfast plates on the table, “We’ll have Doug back within a few hours after his plane lands.” She looked at me and added as she sat down at the table, “Grant… would you please say grace?”
I reached out and took Emma’s left hand in my right and Mary’s right hand in my left. Mary and Emma completed the circle with their free hands as we all bowed our heads. “Our heavenly Father, we thank you for the meal we’re about to eat and thank you for all the blessings you have bestowed on our family. We look forward to Doug’s homecoming and pray his flight in will be safe. Help each of us to do our best to serve you in all of our endeavors. These things we ask in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Both Emma and Mary echoed, “Amen.”
As we ate, we had a typical family conversation. Emma stated, “Once we wash the dishes, I’m going to drive into town to Golden Dawn. I need to pick up a few groceries… need to make Doug’s favorite meals.”
“Would you pick up a small bag of white rice?” I asked.
“You never eat rice,” Emma responded with a surprised look showing on her face.
“It’s for the fishing trip,” I laughed and winked at Emma. “You don’t need to know anything else.”
Emma smiled as Mary asked, “What fishing trip? Can I go?”
Before I could respond, Emma interjected, “Not this time honey. Father and Doug need to have some time for man talk… by themselves.”
Seeing a disappointed look on Mary’s face, I added, “If we find out the steelhead are running, we can have a second trip next weekend. You could go then.”
Emma interjected, “If you care to honey, you can ride into town with me.”
“Could we stop at Geauga Mapleland on the square? I’d like to buy some maple candy as a gift for Doug. You know how he loves them, and the ones we made in the spring are all gone.”
“Sure honey, that’s a great idea.”
Following breakfast, my ladies left for town, and I had some fencing that needed mending on the south forty. It kept my mind occupied until it was time to leave for the airport.
My excitement was intense. I couldn’t wait to see Doug. Since he was inducted into the army, this was only the second time he came home. He had a two week leave the past Christmas holiday.
The drive into and through Cleveland to Hopkins Airport seemed to take forever. Traffic was very slow moving because of road congestion caused by a rare Saturday Cleveland Browns’ game. This was actually my first trip to the airport. At Christmas Doug traveled by bus, and when we dropped him off the day he entered the army, he left on a train from the Terminal Tower station. We could see the tower dominating the skyline as we crept along on the crowded inner-belt of the expressway. Eventually we arrived about a half hour before the scheduled arrival of Doug’s plane.
Emma and I found our way to a gate on Concourse A where Doug’s plane was scheduled to unload. We waited, with a handful of others for a United flight from Washington National Airport. I was surprised that what was referred to as a gate was a second story waiting area with regular doors identified with gate numbers. Between these doors were large expanses of windows through which we could watch the commercial jets as they arrived or departed. It amazed me how aviation had advanced since my days in the Army Air Corp. I watched as a jet taxied to an adjacent gate.
I pointed to the jet as I addressed Emma, “Look at that.”
We watched a motorized enclosed and moveable telescoping ramp that was connected to the building being moved into position at the door of the jet. The passengers were provided direct access into the terminal while protected from outdoor weather conditions.
About a minute later a much smaller aircraft pulled up outside of the window. Rather than a jet, it had a single motor and propeller mounted on each wing. My mind screamed at me. Except for the porthole windows to the passenger cabin, it was the same type of aircraft I flew on during my return trip to the States following my imprisonment. The plane was a DC-3, a commercial version of a C-47 Skytrain, a military cargo plane.
Rather than connecting with a movable walkway, a set of steps was wheeled into position at the cabin door of the plane. I watched in anticipation as passengers exited and descended the stairs to the pavement and walked toward the terminal. It wasn’t long before Doug appeared.
“There he is,” Emma stated. Tears of emotion were trickling from her eyes.
“That’s our son,” I replied. “He really looks sharp.” It wasn’t an exaggeration. The way he wore his uniform was a sight to see. The khaki uniform had what appeared to be razor sharp creases. The pants were neatly tucked into the tops of highly polished black leather boots. Sergeant stripes dominated the short sleeves of his shirt, and a deep-green beret crowned the top of his erectly held head.
Doug disappeared from sight as he entered a door to the terminal building, and I noticed those who exited the plane in front of him started to enter the waiting area through the door labeled with the gate number. I grabbed Emma’s hand and led her toward the door. I felt lumps in my throat, and I was filled with pride when Doug appeared. Emma raced to him and engulfed him with a passionate hug. The smile on Doug’s face was electrifying, and then he leaned over and kissed his mother’s forehead. I wished I would have brought a camera with me to catch the moment.
Once Emma released her hold on our son, Doug extended his hand to me and stated, “Great to see you sir.”
I accepted his firm handshake and responded, “Great to have you home Doug.” I then took my other arm and wrapped it around him in a hug. “You don’t need to call me sir. Dad is fine.”
Doug laughed and stated, “It’s my military training.” He quickly looked around and asked, “Where’s Mary?”
Emma answered, “Someone had to milk the cows. She wanted to be here.” Emma then realized Doug left the plane without any baggage. “Don’t you have luggage?”
“We’ll have to pick it up at the baggage claim area. I was told it will probably be about a half an hour before it’s there.”
“So…” Emma stated. “We have some time to kill,”
“Let’s catch a beer,” I offered. “I saw a small tavern along the concourse on our way in.”
“Sounds like a great plan,” Doug stated.
As we approached the tavern, we were passing an entrance to a men’s room. I excused myself and asked Emma to order a beer for each of us. “I’ll be there shortly.”
When I joined them, Doug and Emma were seated on stools at a small round elevated table. The beers had yet to be delivered. As I sat down, Doug addressed me, “I understand you want to go fishing. How about tomorrow? We could go to the Harpersfield Dam. The steelhead should be running.”
“That’s my plan,” I replied thrilled to see Doug’s enthusiasm. I feared he might not want to waste a day of his leave alone with his old man.
A bar maid brought three drafts to the table, and as I pulled out my wallet to pay her, she pointed to a man seated at the bar and stated before she walked away, “That gentleman paid for your drinks.”
I immediately walked over to the man and addressed him, “I thank you for buying our beers, but you didn’t have to.”
The man smiled and stated, “It’s my pleasure to do so. You and your family are making a great contribution to our country. I see your son is a soldier, and too few people take the opportunity to say thanks these days.”
“Well thank you. I admire what you’re doing.”
“Back when I served everyone treated us with respect. These days…”
“I agree. I can remember the compassion everyone in America seemed to have for us.” Then I asked, “Where did you serve?”
“I was a tail gunner on a B-24 with the Fourteenth Air Force in India and China during the Second World War.”
My jaw probably dropped as I responded, “I was a copilot on a B-24 with the Fourteenth.”
“I’ll be damned…” the man extended his hand to me which I shook as he continued “…I seldom run into others who flew the hump. I’m Jerry Cox.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Grant Metzger. Are you from Cleveland?”
“I live in a small town east of here, Chesterland. I’m flying to the west coast on business. I sell paint.”
“We’re practically neighbors. I have a farm a few miles outside of Chardon.” I could see that Jerry wanted to continue the conversation so I asked, “Why don’t you join us? We’re not going to be here long, but we have a fourth stool at the table. After all, you bought our beers.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
Jerry accompanied me to the table, and I introduced him to Emma and Doug. Jerry was not bashful. It was a quality probably needed to be a successful salesman.
Jerry took a pack of Winston cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He fished out one and placed it between his lips. He held the pack out and offered, “Would any of you like a cigarette?”
I told him I quit a few years earlier. Emma shook her head no, but to Emma’s surprise… also to mine… Doug took one. Jerry flipped open the top on a Zippo lighter, ignited it and reached across to light Doug’s cigarette prior to lighting his own. He then addressed Doug, “Sergeant I really appreciate you and the others who are serving our country. I see the hat tucked into your belt. Are you a Green Beret?”
“Yes sir. I am. I just finished my Special Forces training.”
“Are you starting your leave, or are you on your way back?”
“I’m starting a thirty day leave before heading to Vietnam.”
Jerry was caught off guard. He thought for a few seconds before he continued as his face expressed concern. “I will say a prayer every day for your safe return.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Jerry’s smile returned as he stated, “Your dad and I just found out we were both in the Fourteenth Air Force during our war.” He looked at me before continuing, “When were you there?”
“We arrived in China one day prior to the units being sent back to bases in India for the Burma campaign. That was about a week before Thanksgiving in forty-three.”
Jerry interjected, “We were part of the original forces that arrived near the end of March that year. I was lucky enough to survive thirty-eight missions. We flew the hump many times more. How about you?”
“I had two missions. The first was the second wave on Thanksgiving Day. The second was two days later. We didn’t make it back.”
“You flew out of Panagarh?” He asked and then looked at Doug and Emma prior to continuing, “That’s in India.”
“Yes,” I answered.
“That would have been a bombing run to Insein… just north of Rangoon in Burma?”
“We were in that formation too. You must have been in one of the newer model J Liberators. That’s the only plane we lost that day with a crew I didn’t know. You guys were too new for me to get acquainted. I made it my business to meet everyone. That’s my weakness. I’m a people person. It helps now that I’m a salesman.”
Both Doug and Emma were very attentive. They never heard any of what was being said before. Doug interrupted, “Mr. Cox?”
Jerry smiled as he said, “You may call me Jerry. Ask what you want.”
“You mentioned Liberators. What are Liberators?”
“A Liberator was what B-24 bombers were known as. Just like the B-29 was known as the Flying Fortress.” Jerry looked at me and continued, “You made it out. You either were rescued or captured.”
“Captured…” this was more than I spoke about since my official debriefing “…and I have never talked about it.”
“Just one question, and don’t feel obligated to answer me. Did you end up in the Rangoon Prison as a POW?”
I hesitated, but answered, “Yes.”
It was silent for a moment as Jerry took a deep draw on his cigarette, crushed it out in the ashtray and swallowed a large gulp of beer. He then continued in a somber voice. “About four months before that we were on a bombing run over Rangoon. Our Intelligence had yet to identify the prison as a POW Camp. One of our planes dropped a bomb on the prison.”
“I know. I saw the damage and was told a large number of British and Dutch POWs were killed. The bombing totally took out one of the large prison cell block buildings.”
“I’m sorry you had to endure that place,” Jerry offered. “You know there is an oxymoron associated with the B-24. Our Liberators led to shackles for you and thousands of others.”
When I crawled into bed, Emma was waiting for me. She reached over with her hand and stroked my forehead as she asked, “Are you going to be alright?”
“I think I’ll be alright. I’m not feeling the apprehension I had last night.”
“Why don’t you and Doug leave early tomorrow morning? And you can stay late. Mary and I will get the cows milked.”
“That’s not fair to either you or Mary.”
Emma laughed and replied, “We’ll make sure you’ll make it up to us. By the way, why do you want the rice?”
I laughed as I answered, “It’s a secret. Someday I may let you know.”
Emma leaned over and kissed my lips and said, “Goodnight Love.”
“Goodnight. I love you.”