I remember Pearl Harbor and the onset of war: The headlines, newsreels, songs of bond-selling, gas-griping, and movies too true to hate. Those days found the whole Earth bent inwards, imploding bombs, bullets, blood, shrieking terrible bird cries in my ears only deepest sleep could lose when it ventured close.
I lost my brother. At his departure for the service, when he waved at me, he did it with both hands standing in the shade of a barn. Only later did I find significance in the memory of the shadow swallowing him whole. He was gone with a two-handed wave like a referee signaling Saturday’s lone touchdown.
Later, drifting off to sleep, I remembered the nifty bell-bottom blues he wore in pictures my mother cleaned and cleaned on the altar of her bureau as if he were Christ or Buddha.
He was out there in sun and sand and rain of shells and sounds I came to know years later, moving up from Pusan, Korea — the new war — my war.
I never really knew about him until he came home, jumped off a train in Saugus Center and I saw his sea bag locked on his shoulder, decorated with the ultimate map and the names Saipan, Iwo Jima, Kwajalein, the war.
Often I remember him as if in pieces: His eyebrows thick and dark and sure as cordage; gray-green eyes wide as dial faces on test equipment measuring tasks and how he appraised with a nod so slight.
I shivered before recognizing a shadow of him walking across Pacific waters, sea bag shouldered, stride long and unhurried, smiling, waving to us, coming home, gigantic fires fading behind him, awful nightmare blasts, bombs, aerial explosions, fractures of ships, swimming alone in the mid-Pacific, fading too.
I find him and companions in my dreams from war’s madness, my memories of his absence for war years, the pains we all shared, the too old among us and the too young of us coming between us, close, reaching, still building all our dreams he had drafted in darkness in the bedroom the night before he left.
It happens at my Riverside Cemetery every visit, the names calling out to me from upright stones, old faces seen again, old friends, uniforms proudly worn in their ranks, the privates, the captain, the generals, all memories awake, ready for ever.
Tom Sheehan, 91, is a Saugus resident, veteran and author who has published 36 books with two in the works.