Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Having lived in Hawaii, I have been to Ford Island several times, and yes, you can still see the USS Arizona, submerged in the Harbor. Sad, scary day in History.
But, this is actually intended to be a nice post about one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever met. His name was Walter Henry Cox, and I loved him like a grandpa. . The first time I met him, he hobbled out of his truck, (with Pearl Harbor survivor license plate), smiled and winked at me, and gave me a pack of mint lifesavers.
This would be the regular way we greeted for the next several years.Hobble, smile, wink, pack of lifesavers. Anyways, we spent alot of time with him when I was a kid. He was like a Dad to my Dad, and a Grandpa to me. He was so smart, and believed in living off the land and working hard. He was a farmer. He owned alot of land, chopped up alot firewood and was kind to everyone. Henry was a good hearted soul.
Henry also lived through many sad events.
Henry was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was stationed in Hawaii and living in the barracks near Pearl Harbor. Early in the morning on December 7th 1941, Henry was shaving, getting ready for church, when the bombing and the chaos began. Noone was sure what was happening at first. But it soon became very clear.He described events from the day as if they had happened yesterday. He told me the smell of burning flesh was the most horrendous smell one could imagine. He wrote about it. He talked about it. Yet, he held no grudge. Henry told me that he grew up quickly, and after Pearl Harbor, he never wanted to fight with anyone, and he never wanted to be around any type of violence. He couldn’t handle it. I can’t even imagine living with the memory of seeing and carrying dead, wounded, and charred bodies. How do you even begin to process something like that?
There is a picture of him that had been taken on the USS Missouri just months before the attack. He was so young. And very, very handsome.
As if Pearl Harbor wasn’t enough, soon after, he was sent to Midway, where, yep, you guessed it, he was in the Battle Of Midway.
Once WWII ended, he moved back to washington state, got married and started a family. Henry had a beautiful wife and three lovely kids. One day, there was a terrible automobile accident, and Henry’s two son’s died. They were young. If I remember correctly, 7 and 10 years old. Henry’s wife was driving, and she survived, but had a breakdown and ended up spending the rest of her life in a hospital, because she just could not recover, physcially or mentally..
So, Henry raised his daugther alone in a tiny little shack that he built on his land right outside of Olympia Washington. The shack was literally tiny. And when I was a kid, the shack had carpets of green moss all over the roof. There were stacks of firewood piled all around the outside. The shack was one room that had one big window, where you could look out and see an awesome swing he had built for his daughter. We used to play on it all the time.
Now, as an adult, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain he endured. But again, like I said, he was so kind and lovely. His eyes were the most beautiful blue you could imagine. Like the water in the Florida Keys. Beautiful and warm.
I guess out of everyone in my family, I became closest to him. During my teenage years, my Dad and I really didn’t get along, and Henry knew it. So one day, Henry came over and said “do you want to come live with me?” I said “Yes!!!!!” He left a note for my parents that said “I kidnapped Tiffany. Love, Henry” And that was that.I moved out to his property. I lived in a little motor home and he lived right next to me in a big nice double wide mobile home with wood-siding. He taught me how to drive a tractor. I cooked for him. He was always so polite, even though he hated spicy food, which I happened to love. I used to force him to sit around and watch Disney movies. Ultimately, he was someone who loved me unconditionally. And I am forever grateful.
When I was 18, Henry died. I remember spending hours with him at the hosptial. He was struggling with bone cancer. It was severe. He was unconscious. I told him about all the trouble I had been getting in, I told him I needed him to stay alive. And although he was unconscious, I know he heard. But it was his time. He died the next day. It was grey and rainy at his funeral. I cried a lot and then went home, drank beer in the shower, and listened to Willie Nelson’s Blue Eye’s crying in the Rain, on repeat.
It has been many years, and I still think of him. Sometimes, I think his ghost comes to visit. And if his ghost is here today,I just want to say, thanks for the love, the stories, the guidance, the wisdom, and thanks for all the mint lifesavers.
Henry taught love, compassion, kindness for all. Henry, I love you.