Confession #18 

Sittin' in the mornin' sun 
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' comes 

Watchin' the ships roll in 
Then I watch 'em roll away again.... 

The skyline of San Francisco's Nob and Telegraph Hills with Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands in the foreground, from the flight deck of the USS Rudyerd Bay, summer 1945. 

In one of those little remarkable coincidences of history, seventy-four years ago this summer the paths of my two grandfathers---who did not know each other, who were from different areas of the country far apart, and who would not meet for another twenty years----converged and brushed briefly at the San Francisco Bay. This I discovered recently while doing research into their lives. 

There, my grandfather Tommy, a sailor in the US Navy aboard the USS Rudyerd Bay, was admitted to the US Naval Hospital at Treasure Island for care and treatment of burns to his hands that he had suffered during the two months the “Rudy” had spent on the line in the ferocious battle for Okinawa.  

Thomas "Tommy" Kennard, USNR (left) and Arnold Johnson, shipbuilder (right).

Report of Changes, Muster Roll, USS Rudyerd Bay, 1 August 1945 documenting Tommy Kennard's transfer from the ship to US Naval Hospital Treasure Island, San Francisco, California for treatment and disposition. 

Just a few miles across the bay, my grandfather, Arnold Johnson, was engaged in work at the Richmond Shipyard #1 building the Liberty Ships and Victory Ships which would carry to nearly every shore on the the planet the supplies vital in the fight against fascism and imperialism.

But neither, I am certain, wished to be where he was on that day----Tommy wishing to be home in Texas building a life with his young wife and son in peace and security and Arnold wishing the same and to take his young family back to the hills and mountains of Utah that he loved so deeply. But the Great Depression and a world at war had uprooted these men and their families and altered the destinies of their lives.

Illustration of Richmond, California shipyard workers, Emmy Lou Packard, for "Fore 'n' Aft" magazine, 1944 or 1945

And so, this morning, as I listened to Otis Redding I thought of my grandfathers and felt some sadness for the loneliness and regret that they must have felt for their youth which had become consumed by events far beyond their control. But I am also filled with great pride to know that I am the grandson of such men who, in spite of their human flaws, frailties and limited understanding of themselves and their lives in relation to these great events, nonetheless possessed the strength of character to answer the call of liberty and hold the line at a moment when it was most critical. I feel very fortunate to belong to them, indeed. 

And of San Francisco------well, it is just simply the greatest place on Earth to me, the site of all the greatest myths, both real and imagined, that live at the very center of my soul! 

19 August 2019
South Ogden, Utah


Post a Comment

Popular Posts