1059 Footnote to the Greatest Generation
(BELLEFONTE PA) -- Brokaw got it right. Those WWII guys ARE the greatest generation. They get it.
It’s a sweltering Saturday afternoon. There’s a crafts fair. You know... 67 guys with rock jewelry, a couple of authors, Maryland crabcake sandwiches, a bluegrass band, a face painter. The temperature in Smoke-Free Talleyrand Park, Bellefonte, PA is about 87 degrees and the sun is beating down. And 87 also is the estimated age of the old guy sitting on one end of the only park bench in the shade, the guy with a better walking cane than mine.
I sit down at the other end, planning to answer some e-mails on the smartphone when the guy turns to me and stares with fading but still sparkling blue eyes and says “that’ll be two dollars for the seat, kid.” “Kid” is a mere 70 and says “You take American Express?”
“Nah, but we’ll work something out.” I go back to the smartphone. The guy keeps talking.
“Where you from?”
“State College at the moment but originally New York.”
“Me, I’m from State College too.”
“And before that”
“Well, that takes some thinking. Born in Virginia. School in Alabama where I met my wife. I wonder where she is. She’s wandering around and I hope she can find me.”
“That’s why God made cellphones.”
“Well, mine I left in the car and hers is at home.”
Brilliant. The guy must be a retired Penn State professor.
“Nope. I worked for Penn State but I did research... underwater acoustics.”
“So, what, you play the Saxophone in a swimming pool?”
“Nah. Trumpet. The horn. Isn’t easy. You only get to inhale once, then you have to go the whole 940 bars on one breath.”
“No. But I should be home practicing instead of jawing here with you. Got a gig tomorrow. Senior Citizens’ Dance Band. And I’m going to eat too late.”
(It was 3:20 in the afternoon.)
“So, what about the underwater acoustics?
“Submarines. We figured out what each one sounded like. American, Russian, German. Then we figured out how far away they were, how deep they were sailing and how fast.”
“This was at Penn State?”
“And you were a college boy?”
“College boy for two years. Two years in the air corps, officer in charge of the motor pool. Then back to college in Alabama. I met my wife on the sign-up line. I hope she can find me.”
“So you were Sgt. Bilko?”
“Not exactly. But I did get the best Jeeps for my personal business.”
They don’t make guys like this anymore. Guys who could say about going to war “I had no choice, but if I had, this is the choice I would have made.”
My spouse arrives, shoves me down from the end to the middle so I can continue talking with the guy. She says to him “This cheapskate wouldn’t give you two bucks for the seat?” I say “I was trying to get him down to $1.50.” He says “I was trying to get him up to $4.”
The guy, Larry Pharo: “I’m a retarded Egyptian King. Retarded, not retired.” Larry gets it. So did the rest of his generation.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013