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The Frogman, a Prince

by | April 11, 2011

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Jack Kniest, who served as a US Frogman during World War II,  in Burma, in the early 1940s.

My dad lost a lot. When he was two years old he lost his father who died from complications from being gassed in the trenches during the Great War. He lost his mother next, who had to go to work to support her two sons. Jack was angry at her, not understanding her lack of alternative. He lost his only brother during the next war, World War II. His brother was shot down over the Pacific. He lost his first son, Ward, when Ward was only twenty-four from a car accident. He lost my mother’s money when his then-partner killed himself, having ventured his own and my parents’ fortune and lost them. My father trusted him and my mother trusted my father. She never blamed my father. My father never blamed his partner. He never complained.

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Jack (right) and fellow Frogman Norman Abbott (left).

My father learned early on to appreciate the moment, to enjoy when he could, to live each moment to the hilt. When all seemed lost again and he was in his fifties, he returned to California, the place he had learned to love when he was in training at Camp Pendleton with the Marines.

Jack was a great swimmer, something he developed having had polio as a child. He became a diving instructor in the Marines before he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war. He swam to and attached limpet mines to enemy ships in the Pacific before escaping, hoping to be picked up by his own ship.

They were called Frogmen, with feet in rubber fins and only their skinny swimming trunks belted with underwater bombs. They had no diving equipment but an airtight mask with a breathing device. With bulging eyes and big rubber feet, these brave Frogmen jumped off the side of their ship into shark-infested and enemy-fired waves to clear the sea roads for beach landings. He also told me about hiding from the enemy by climbing palm trees in Burma. Jack always kept his rosary in his pocket.

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Every evening when he came home from the bank, he made a highball, slipped off his shoes and settled into his chair to read. I used to try his New Yorker but could never get past the Talk of the Town. I couldn’t understand it at all. What did that have to do with our town, Sedalia, Missouri? My trusting dad knew I would figure it out eventually.

Jack was so handsome he didn’t have to talk much, but he expected correct grammar during every conversation. His prepossessing smile demanded one in return, making him a natural charmer and cheerer–a true gentleman, a winsome prince: my dad, the Frogman.

How so many who loved Jack remember him: settled in his chair, with  a book, a highball and a pack of Pall Mall unfiltereds.

 

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Coral Tree In-home Care provide caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 350 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.

3 Comments

  1. Brian Hoskins

    Cassidy,
    I grew up down the street from you on 5th Street. I hung around with your brother Matt and my sister (Moira) hung around with Madeline. I thought your dad was the most sophisticated man I’d ever met. I remember him setting in that chair, looking over his reading glasses to see what we were up to, but I can’t recall him ever saying anything.

    I moved away from Sedalia in 1975 when I joined the Navy. 36 years later, I’m still in the Navy and about to retire as a Navy Commander.

    Thanks for sharing the memories–I had a lot of fun in the Kniest mansion.

    All the best,
    Brian Hoskins

    Reply
    • admin

      Hi Brian,
      I remember your family. Didn’t you live in Stella Bliss’s house on 5th? Anyway, what a lovely comment about Jack: thank you from him and me. It sounds like you’ve had an interesting life, one I imagine that has taken you around the world. Congratulations on your near-retirement. I wonder if you ever go back to Sedalia? Best of luck to you and thank you truly for writing.
      All Best,
      Cassidy

      Reply
  2. Gary Klein aka Flash

    Great article Cassidy. I new Jack was a great guy but had no idea of all that he had accomplished. Thanks for sharing. I have always wondered where you and Matt ended up. Would really like to hear from you.
    I also saw your mom ran into your mom at the Sedalia hospital before she passed.she was a great lady also.

    Reply

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