A rare sunny day in Dun Laoghaire
The following is a true story. None of the names or places have been changed.
People hated to see Bill Fitzmaurice on the train. Oh he was a nice enough guy. In fact, he was very nice. He always remembered your kids names. He would ask you how you were doing and then actually listen to your answer.
The problem was that he did not drive. That meant that when the train pulled in to Stamford he would hit you up for a ride home. You couldn’t very well say no after having chatted with him for the whole long train ride from Grand Central. But he lived all the way down at the tip of Shippan Point. If you happened to live in North Stamford, or even in the Cove, it was really inconvenient. The last thing anyone wanted to do after a tough day at work in New York and a long commute home was to spend another half hour driving Bill home and then coming back.
In the mornings, Bill’s wife dropped him off at the station. She could have picked him up for the ride home too, but Bill preferred to “hitch” a ride with his friends. It was weird for a middle aged man in Connecticut not to drive. To get anywhere you really needed a car. Weird and annoying. He had a wife and family. What kind of man was too lazy to drive and make his wife do all the chauffeuring?
Bill’s son Michael did very well in school, and Bill was proud of him. On Michael’s fifteenth birthday Bill took him aside and gave him a box with a special present. Inside the box was a short green Army jacket. It had Sergeant’s stripes and some special hash marks on the sleeve. There was a small “T” inside the Sergeant’s stripes.
“Try it on son. It’s my old Army Jacket.”
“I didn’t know you were in the Army,” said Michael. “You never mentioned it before.” Then he put on the jacket, which as predicted was much too large for him.
“I was in the Army for nine years. I was in before the war, and of course through the whole war.”
“What did you do in the war dad? ”
“I was a truck driver.”
Michael was stunned. The man who would never get behind the wheel of a car was an Army truck driver for nine years.
That’s when Bill Fitzmaurice told his son about the war. Bill had loved the Army. He got to travel all over the world and had even spent a lot of time in India. He drove trucks and worked his way up to Sergent. When the war came he continued to drive trucks. They were the big kinds you see in every World War II movie. In the back were either troops or supplies.
Bill and his unit served in the Pacific. The worst part was not the Japanese, but the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and bad roads. The whole war, Bill dreamed about getting back to the cooler weather of Connecticut.
It was an assignment like any other. Bill was told to transport a group of men and their Lieutenant from one base to another. Bill was alone in the cab. Normally an officer would have been up front with Bill, but the Lieutenant had ridden in the back with the men, so he could talk to them about the details of their new assignment.
The road was awful. It was a rutted dirt road up the side of a mountain. Bill had to keep the truck in the lowest gear and still the tires slipped unless he was really gentle with the acceleration.
They were about half way up the mountain when the Japanese plane struck. It came out of nowhere and was all alone. By that part of the war the Japanese air force was almost completely destroyed, so it was unusual to even see a plane.
The plane came straight at the stuck with the guns blazing. There was nothing Bill could do for protection. The truck was completely exposed on the mountain side. There were no trees or rocks to hide behind and there was no place to pull off.
The plane strafed the truck and then pulled up and disappeared into the sky. The whole attack lasted no more than 30 seconds. The bullets had damaged the back tires and the truck started to slip backwards. Bill pulled the emergency brake, tried to compensate with the steering, but the truck slid off the road and tumbled down the side of the mountain.
It bounced over the rocks. Bill’s head banged against the side as it fell. When the truck finally stopped its decent, it just happened to land upright. Bill sat behind the wheel for several minutes in a daze. He used his hand to feel the lump on the side of his head. The wound was bloody, but did not seem that bad. He checked and found that he had no broken bones, so he cautiously got out of the cab.
Bill walked to the back of the truck and tossed open the canvas covering to check on the the men. They were all there in a pile with their bodies at odd twisted angles. Bill climbed into the truck and checked each man one by one hoping that someone had survived. But they were all dead. He still remembers vividly how young the Lieutenant looked. Like a little kid playing dress-up soldier.
Bill never drove another vehicle of any type after that. He was in the hospital for a short time with a concussion, but aside from that had no injuries. Not physical ones anyway.
Bill stayed in the Army until he end of the war. He still worked on trucks; doing oil changes, changing spark plugs and so on, but somehow always found a way to get out of any actual driving. The officers looked the other way and never pressed him on the issue.
When the war ended Bill came home with millions of other guys. He ended up living and working in New York City where he never had to drive. One day he met a wonderful young woman. They were married and when she became pregnant she announced that she wanted to move to Connecticut where Bill had originally grown up. She knew it would mean doing all the driving. She was the only person who Bill had ever told about his wartime experiences. Until he told his son Michael.
For everyone else, Bill is just the annoying guy on the train you want to avoid on the way home.