Ya know, I was in the midst of writing a fairly angry post regarding Bob Costas and his knee-jerk, jack-ass anti-gun diatribe when he was supposed to be running his sanctimonious lefty yap about football. But to hell with Bob Costas and his whole faux-intellectual cabal of arrogant liberal loudmouth jerks.
Instead I will tell you about the incredible gift from Bill. Bill had served twice in Vietnam, 1968-69 and 1970-71, slogging around with 4th Infantry Division as a LRRP. He still has the indentation from where the bipod of his beloved M60B machine gun wore on his collarbone. Bill came home to what so many Vietnam Vets did, scorn and disapproval. A Veteran of intense combat in both his tours, he had real and serious problems coming back to “the world”. The disconnect with those whom he found when he came home heightened his already somewhat taciturn nature. He still isn’t one for crowds, to be sure. Even now, some 40 years since he left the Army, Bill certainly looks the part of the disaffected Vietnam Veteran. But his hair and beard, and his big, rumbling Harley belie a kind and generous side, the heart of a prince, and a talented, thoughtful intellectual. He is an award-winning photographer whose images speak vividly of his interests and the world around us. He is extremely well-read, eloquent and witty. He is a man whom, once you know him, you have an instinctive sense you can rely upon. In a way that Veterans define it.
Bill handed me an old rifle a couple months ago. A SMLE No 1 MK III that was pretty rusty and had seen some wear. He’d picked it up a long time ago from God knows where, for twenty bucks, I think he said. He asked if I would have a look, to see if it could be salvaged. While it was rusty and worn in some places, and had a crack in the stock behind the magazine well, the rifle cleaned up surprisingly nicely. I had a hell of a good time disassembling and cleaning it, and making it look like a Tommy could shoulder it once more.
Tonight, I neglected to bring the rifle to the American Legion meeting, but mentioned casually that it cleaned up pretty well, albeit with a broken stock. He asked if I might find another stock, and I told him I thought I could. He thanked me for the work on the SMLE. I informed him that the task was pure pleasure, but he still was most appreciative. He then told me he had something for me in his car. What he brought in and unwrapped left me speechless.
A HAND-DRAWN “recruiting poster” that was presented to “Lieut. Peter Elser”, a former Harvard football star who joined the Marines in August of 1941! It was Bill’s way of thanking me for cleaning up his Lee-Enfield. The sketch, done in charcoal, depicts the Marines’ defense of Wake Island, and bears the year “1941″ in the artist’s margin notes. (Peter Elser, interestingly, was a witness in a murder-for-money trial in 1944, having found the dead woman’s body.) The artwork is magnificent, portraying two Marine machine gunners operating their water-cooled Browning while aircraft scream overhead. In a scroll box at the bottom, the artist has hand-written some lines from the Marines’ Hymn.
Bill had the poster beautifully matted and framed, and it goes into a place of honor in my office first thing tomorrow. I cannot thank him enough. This is a possession prized beyond expression. Billy, thank you. You may poke fun at the Marines evermore. And your rifle will get a new stock as soon as I can put my hands on one.