Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Armistice Day Wish From Rear Admiral JF Grease Pencil

Rear Admiral JF Grease Pencil never served in the military.  His father was a US Navy Captain who served - and died - during the Great War.  James Franklin "JF" Happ was born in Annapolis, Maryland within a few seconds of the official 11/11/18 armistice - the end of the first world war. His mother gave JF the nickname "Rear Admiral" during the boy's toilet training.

Through his formative years, sharing his birthday with Armistice Day, and growing up with the ghost of a brave father he never met, JF learned a deep and abiding respect for the uniform and those who wore it.  JF's mother taught him to thank his friends' fathers for their service, and he did - long before he even knew what that meant.

So in 1932, when his mother was killed in an owlery collapse, and fourteen-year old JF hit the road with his hobo uncle, he took his appreciation for his country's veterans with him.  Every November 11th, he made sure he found his way to the war veterans or Armistice Day memorial of the nearest town, said a prayer, and left a note and some of his best lint.  He did this every year from 1932 until 1940, when he was crushed to death under a load of scrap metal while sleeping in an open gondola near Atlanta.

One of these notes survives, and is on display in the National Hobo Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC - or it will be, if I can ever get the Smithsonian people to answer my emails:

Dear Veterans of America's wars,

I never knew my father.  I've been told that he was very brave, and I've met some of the men who served with him, and they cry when they talk about him, so I suppose he was a special man.  I knew some kids in school whose dads also never came home.  It's very sad.

Now, I have some wishes.  On this Armistice Day of 1939, I wish my father were here, so that I might shake his hand and say thank you.  I wish I could thank everyone on his ship - in fact, everyone who fought in the war to end all wars.

More than that, I wish you didn't have to do what you do.  I wish you didn't have to go where you go.  I wish with all my heart that my country had no use whatsoever for your sacrifice and your set of skills.  But the simple fact is that you are needed - you go and you do and you sacrifice because it is necessary.  

One of my dad's men once told me that most of them can't stand being called heroic - or even brave - so I'll just say, as I do every year...

Thank you all.

Hobo Rear Admiral JF Grease Pencil

Yes, I know that's a schooner.  I like the flag on it.

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