Friday, June 19, 2015

We move through our lives making connections, some that last a lifetime and some that seem to fade like an old Kodachrome snapshot. For me, Facebook means reconnecting threads long broken, but unless that person belongs to Facebook it's more difficult and in some instances comes just plain too late. I've had two such instances lately.

Only just this week I learned of the passing of a Sammamish High School classmate that I don't think I'd seen since graduation in 1969.  He was not a close friend, but was with someone of whom I have fond memories and also mostly lost contact with.  Mark Byrski was shy even in grade school and never did come to reunions.  This week I learned of his passing and despite the fact that we did not travel in the same circles really, I feel  thread from the weave of our shared childhood has one more hole in it.  At my age there are several holes and doubtless more to come.  Our In Memorium poster will have one more picture when we meet at Lake Sammamish this fall.

Several nights ago I dreamed of a couple with whom I'd lost touch back in the 1980s.  During the 1970s they had been a large part of the lives of my then husband and myself.  Father Sam Poulos baptized our daughter Amy and baptized and was godfather to our son Joshua, his wife godmother.  In my dream they were aged as they might be forty years later.  I recognized Dimitra immediately even though her hair was gray.  Fr. Sam was much thinner.  He was a jolly Friar Tuck sort of parish priest at the Church of the Assumption in Seattle.  Their adopted boys were roughly the same age as Amy and Josh and we traded parenting tips and baby clothes.

We were sad when Fr. Sam was reassigned to a California parish, but it was better for Dimi's health.  After their departure we had another son, but our connection with the parish seemed diminished and our lives were changing.  Soon we divorced.  A number of moves on both end of the snail mail trail meant that eventually even the Christmas cards stopped.  A lot of history water has flowed under the bridge and except when I glance at a montage of pictures of baby pictures of the children and see Fr. Sam and Dimi proudly holding Josh on his baptism day, I haven't thought much about them.  I always worried that my subsequent marriages would be a disappointment to them.  Now I am inclined to think I would be welcomed as an old friend to trade stories of our children.  But it's just plain too late.

When I awoke from this vivid dream of visiting with Fr. Sam and Dimi I went straight to the computer, determined to find them.  There was blessed little.  I found that Fr. Sam had been a parish priest in the San Francisco Diocese in the early 1980s.  That made sense.  They went to Pittsburg, CA, but it was too foggy there for Dimi and they moved on to Bakersfield which suited Dimi's health much better.

A little farther down my Google search was something I had not anticipated.  It was an obituary for Fr. Sam from 2010 in Maryland.  He'd been dead for five years. Undoubtedly he touched many lives in the last forty odd years with Dimi's quiet gentleness bringing grace to their impact on the congregations they served. 

Why I had my dream lately when I'd not even thought of them recently is a mystery.  As mysterious as the mind is.

It is one thing to believe that connections with someone can be reestablished, but it's quite another to know that that thread has been forever severed in this world.  I guess if there is a moral to the story it is to work hard at maintaining relationships.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Remembering the Battle of Midway

From the moment the Japanese flew back to their carriers from Pearl Harbor, my father was no longer that fresh faced boy from the Missouri Ozarks

Seventy-three years ago the United States Navy dealt a strategic blow to the Japanese plan to dominate the South Pacific and my father, Conrad R. Frieze, was there.

My father and his brother Richard had been at Kaneohe Bay on December 7th, 1941 and together fought back against the Japanese attack from he waist hatch of a PBY w: the ith a 50 caliber machine gun.  Uncle Dick even shot down a Japanese zero.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was not only a blow to the United States military with losses of ships and airplanes and some 2,000 soldiers and sailors, but it was a blow psychologically.  Years later my father wrote that he never felt the same again.  He'd gone from being a 19 year old sailor stationed in paradise, scheduled to take an entrance exam for Annapolis. Midway was booster shot to his psychology and that of the United States.

From the moment the Japanese flew back to their carriers from Pearl Harbor, my father was no longer that fresh faced boy from the Missouri Ozarks and by June of 1942 he was a fighting man and the gunner on a PBY.  The PBY was not a fast or glamorous airplane, but it was the workhorse of the Navy and much loved by him.  PBYs were instrumental in locating the Japanese fleet on their way to Midway and by the end of the battle, the one my father was on flew circles around a Japanese lifeboat, my father's 50 cal trained on the officers therein, until a rescue could be exacted by the Navy.

When my father's plane returned to base a messenger sought out my father with the cap device from a Japanese lietenant and with it was the message  "Tell the gunner thank you for not killing us." That and a sword, which came from where I know not and disappeared by my father's death, were among his momentos of the war.

In 1967 Walter Lord published his book Incredible Victory: the Battle of Midway.  My father, now working at the Boeing Company as an aeronautical engineer and an executive, read the book in the early 1970s and saw a picture of the Japanese officers he hadn't killed.  Through his connections at Boeing and the National Archives he was able to track down the men in the boat.  All were still living and the lieutenant was now Retired Rear Admirable Mandai. 

By this time my father had been traveling all over the world, including to Japan, on a regular basis selling first the 727 on through the 747 and saw an opportunity to create publicity for Boeing and to meet the men he didn't kill.  With help from Boeing a meeting and photo op in Tokyo was arranged (one of the men, for whom the war had not ended, refused to attend) and my father got to meet them and present the cap device to Admiral Mandai.  The tall stately man refused to take it back, declaring that it was my father's war trophy.

After that my father and step mother became friends with Admiral Mandai and his wife.  They did the tourist bit around Tokyo with them and the Mandais made visits to Seattle where my father got to be tour guide. 

I don't think as my father watched the Japanese planes disappear on December 7th, 1941 that my father could have ever imagined that one day he would be friends with a Japanese officer or that he still contained enough humanity to save his life.  I am glad for both.