Without Hesitation

Last week I went to The Sailfest in New London, Connecticut. For those of you that don’t know, it is the largest fireworks display on the east coast. People sit on the piers and watch the hour long show in sync to the local radio station. It is quite the spectacle. Upwards of 30,000 people descend on the area.

The piers are surrounded by waist high metal railings. The concrete pier itself juts out about 8 inches past the railings.

Just before the fireworks started I noticed that there was people sitting on opposite side of the railing with their legs hanging over the ledge. I knew the water was deep and about a 6 foot drop from the ledge to the water. And the people. There were a lot of people. Of all ages. Elderly people. Kids. Toddlers.

I have been a certified lifeguard for 15 years.

When I saw those people sitting/standing there, my heart started racing, my mouth went dry. My mind went into overdrive, trying to figure out what I would do if one of those people fell in.

My friends not realizing how serious I was started joking and lighheartedly teasing me. They asked me if I would jump in if someone fell in. Without thinking about it I immediately replied “of course. I wouldn’t even hesitate.”

Shocked, they replied that they wouldn’t, in their minds those people were stupid enough to sit there, if they fall in its their own fault.

I told them that I wouldn’t be able to let someone drown, if I have the knowledge and capability to prevent it. If I didn’t jump in and they didn’t survive; I don’t think I would be able to forgive myself.

Then they started realizing that I was completely serious. One of my friends took notice that I was nervously pacing our small area trying to see as much of the water as I could. I could feel my heart beating like I was on the treamill and my muscles twitching, ready to react. My shoes and socks were off and safely under my chair. My phone and wallet were in my bag. Then the fireworks started and I found myself unable to enjoy them because I kept scanning for trouble.

I never had to jump into that water, thankfully.

But I keep replaying in my head how it would have played it out even now four days later. How would I have gotten the person out? What would I do if there was more than 1 person? Would anyone else jump in to help me? What if someone fainted or had a seizure that caused them to fall into the water? How would I get then out in time to provide care such as mouth to mouth or chest compressions?

This is a common scenario that plays in my head whenever I am near water. Once a lifeguard, always a lifeguard, I guess.

There is Unknown Valor Here.

My heart is pounding in my ears as I sit in the parking lot, phone pressed to my ear. “What do you mean, he’s dead? He was supposed to come over for dinner this weekend.” My voice sounds hollow and alien to me as it comes out of my mouth. I hang up the phone and just sit quietly for a minute to gather my thoughts. I feel the tears being pulled up from my throat and force the lump back down. I am not ready to release this emotion yet. I fumble my car key into the ignition and turn it on. My mind is hazy and distracted, somewhere in there is a thought that maybe I shouldn’t drive until I have a clearer head. But I don’t listen.

I drive without knowing where I am going, barely obeying traffic laws. Until eventually I end up in front of a house. Glancing around, I realize its my grandfather’s house; or rather, was my grandfather’s house.

The old 3 family house in what used to be the nice area of town. Green and white wooden shutters that haven’t been painted or replaced since Nixon was in office, are now faded and the paint has been eroded away. The front porch is rotting and sagging with debris piled on it as if someone was squatting there at night. “Honestly”, I think to myself, “they probably are”.

I look under the mat and find a key. It opens the front door. I have never seen the inside of this house. My grandfather was a private man, always preferring to go to someone else’s house rather than have people over his.

Quietly, I look around at the knickknacks and treasures he held so dear. His daughter’s dress from when she was 5 years old, his son’s stereo equipment and desk from 40 years ago. His wife’s kitchen gadgets, which are now antiques.

I feel a force pulling me up the stairs, I heed the call and begin my trek up the creaky stairs, careful not to step on any rotting wood. I go all the way up to the attic. In the corner there is a pile of stuff, boxes upon, boxes upon, boxes of stuff.

Underneath all those boxes, I see a wooden crate. It looks old and weathered. Quickly I move everything else out of the way so I can get to the wooden box. It is not locked. I heave open the heavy lid. What I find makes me gasp audibly. There are pictures of a man I recognize as my grandfather as a young man. He is wearing a uniform that I didn’t know he wore. USMC. I begin to look through the rest of the trunk and find his rifle; a 1903 Springfield, as well as two sets of uniforms both neatly folded with military precision. Underneath the uniforms; there is a medium sized black case. It looks like a jewelry case but bigger. I think I know what’s in the case. With shaking hands I reach out and gingerly pick it up. I open the case and find 6 medals. I look closer, I see the Medal of Honor, a Purple Heart, Navy Cross, The Navy distinguished Service Medal, The Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star.

I had no idea about this side of my grandfather. It was a complete surprise to me. I went through some of the paperwork in the trunk and found that he was a sniper in the Pacific Theater. He once held off an entire Japanese unit by himself so his buddies could take cover. That’s what the Medal of Honor was awarded for. The Navy Cross was for carrying a young private that had been badly injured through an open field while a firestorm of bullets whizzed around them to safety. The Purple Heart was awarded to him when he was shot in the abdomen. And on and on. Pages and Pages of accounts of valor and bravery. And I never knew any of this while he was alive.

Suddenly I knew why I was sent to his house. He wanted me to find this secret. I knew he had to be honored for his deeds.

I slipped the case carefully into my bag along with his uniform and service pictures. Feeling full of purpose, I headed home to share my newfound information with my family.