Tarawa Moon

Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, November 22, 1943…

Night came inevitably while the moon above brought a perilous illumination…

“Hey, kid?” The sergeant shouted from across the outcropping of rock only yards away from the trembling boy.

“Keep your head down just like we taught ye, aye?” The Scot, as he was known, served as mentor to the young men who were altogether still ill-prepared for the carnage they all faced, But to the boy cowering and barely protected? The man had become a father-figure; more benevolent than one could ever find in a sergeant and more present than the boy’s late father who was kind and compassionate and residing now in paradise.

“You tell him, Fergus!” A voice came from further off the boy’s left side. Jimmy Irwin, the boy’s best mate, was known to tease. The near merciless treatment masked the secret only the two had shared with both great joy and immense dread. The boy smiled to himself.

“You might as well be a mother hen since the lad is practically a momma’s boy,” the young man chortled. His loud laughter was cut short by the volley of bullets that strafed their position. The boy watched in horror as Irwin’s head exploded in a cloud of thick red mist.

“No” he screamed at the sight; sickening to be sure but even more tragic as the boy’s only love had perished in a literal heartbeat. He had barely begun to cry when he felt a sharp pain in his right temple and everything went oddly mauve…

The McKenna home, Berwick, Pennsylvania, 1940…

The Victrola wove its musical magic into the moment as the Glen Miller tune filled the room…..

Louise McKenna finished pulling the strings of Lonnie’s corset tight. A rescue of sorts out of their mother’s hope chest from the attic.

“The sacrifices we make for fashion’s sake.” She laughed, evoking a wince.

“Oh, Lonnie, don’t fret. Mommy? Let’s just say she won’t be surprised.” Louise smiled as her hands gently held Lonnie’s shoulders.

“What about Daddy?” Lonnie’s eyes brimmed with shameful tears.

“What he doesn’t know? Oh dear… Even if he does know? It still won’t hurt him.” Louise laughed but the lighthearted moment was lost on her sibling as Lonnie burst into tears.

“He...He would hate me!” Lonnie exclaimed.

“I know you feel that way, but our father doesn’t… Daddy was never a mean man, even if he was short-sighted once and a while. Yes… he loved you. He might not understand, but he loves you yet” Louise lifted her gaze upward; confident that whatever shortcomings Davey McKenna displayed earth-side were being adjusted above. Lonnie’s sobs ebbed even as Louise spun her sibling around into a hug…

“I… I’m so sorry, Lonnie,” Louise looked at their image in the long mirror; apologizing almost needlessly for her plenty while lamenting Lonnie’s lack.

“Maybe someday? Let’s pretend it is someday? If only for the moment? By that point tears were streaming down both their faces. Louise picked up the dress from the bed and held it in front of Lonnie; the near twin of the dress she wore save for Lonnie’s Alice Blue and her Nile Green.

“For today? Let’s saunter downstairs and spend the afternoon,… the McKenna women together for tea? Mrs. Kathleen McKenna and her daughters; Louise and Leila?” The sentiment was sweet but did little to dispel to the hopelessness of her thirteen-year-old brother….

AH-5 USS Solace anchored off Abemama Island, November 24, 1943

A serious-looking man in a white coat turned to the nurse and half frowned.

“Sorry, Doctor, He’s been mostly in and out of it since they brought him aboard yesterday. He keeps calling out two names. Jimmy and some girl…Lena? Lilly? Hard to make out.” She sighed. At twenty-six, she could easily have been the boy’s older sister. She recalled her brother’s death on the Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor and shuddered at the sight of the boy fighting for his life in front of her eyes,

“Nothing more to be done,” the doctor replied glumly. He shook his head and ;looked away. Best not to display too much emotion; they were hours away from setting out for Oahu with more casualties being brought on board by the minute.

“Ohhhhh,” the boy moaned.

“Shhh,” the nurse cooed gently as tears spilled off her chin. Dr, Standish might be able to compartmentalize, but Ens. Grace Garibaldi could not even though the ship and her crew had already been active since Pearl.

“You can drop by later, Gracie? Get some rest,” Ens. Patricia Allen said softly as she rubbed her co-worker’s shoulder.” She leaned even closer and whispered.

“I’ll come get you…” She didn’t need to elaborate. Grace nodded reluctantly before walking away. Patty leaned over the boy and said a quick prayer before moving to the young man lying in the next cot. She smiled at the boy.

“Semper Fi…what’s your name?”

“Kowolski…. Tommy… Kowolski….”

Somewhere else….

“So this is the boy you’ve been telling me about?” The Major smiled at his daughter before extending his hand to her beau.

“James, is it?”

“Jimmy will do, sir “

“Fine name. My favorite uncle is named Jim. He’s around here somewhere.” The Major flashed a knowing grin since many of his relatives were ‘around’ there.

“Might as well meet him, aye, Marine?” He grabbed the boy’s arm and began to usher him away. As his daughter stepped up, the Major put his hand out in caution.

“You can’t come.” His words as abrupt and unexpected as they were, seemed almost soothing. The girl put her hand to her mouth in disappointment; taking his remark the wrong way.

“You hate me…Daddy? Do you hate me?”

“No,” he said slowly while biting his lip; a family trait he shared with both his daughters. He paused but smiled as tears filled his eyes.

“It’s not your time, honey.”

“You… you don’t hate me?” she gasped at the first-ever endearment.

“I never hated you, I’ve always loved you and never more than now.” His daughter tried to retreat but her father pulled her into a hug before saying at last,

“I love you but God loves you more.” She looked to her boyfriend who nodded and smiled.

“Someday, honey. Someday.” The Major said at last as he kissed her on the forehead. And she heard a voice off somewhere even as her father and beau seemed to vanish in a fog....

“Lonnie? Corporal McKenna??.......”

The boy looked up into the face of Ens. Garibaldi and began to weep; frustration mixed with sadness but also joy and inexplicable hope.

'It’s going to be okay, Marine,” Grace said with a relieved confidence. Lonnie smiled back weakly, knowing without knowing why that it would be okay.

Epilogue – Copenhagen, 1955

Lonnie rested; albeit with a bit of growing if completely expected discomfort, Moonlight streamed through the gap in the curtains; leaving Lonnie's face aglow.

“Mommy cabled and said she’d meet us in Manhattan next month.

“Louise? Do you think? Would he?” She began to cry. Her sister leaned over the bed and kissed her gently on the lips like a lullaby blessing.

“I think he ..I think they're both looking down, Sis” Would love ever find her sibking again?” Louise wondered. She kissed Lonnie on the forehead, while saying at last,

“ God bless you, Leila Katherine McKenna.”

In loving memory and with gratitude for the service and ultimate sacrifice of the brave men and women
who have served to protect all of us around the world

Memorial Day 2017

Moonlight Serenade
Music by Glenn Miller

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This story is 1306 words long.