The Frogman, a Prince
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.
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.
His college nickname was “Silver Tongue,” I think because he kept his silver flask handy in his back pocket. Besides a drink, Jack loved to read and he loved English literature, his major at the University of Missouri. Dickens was his favorite author. I don’t know what he had against Shakespeare, maybe a bad high school teacher.
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.
- SEAL History: Origins of Naval Special Warfare-WWII
- Naval History & Heritage Command’s Underwater Demolition Teams-WWII Photograph Collections