Last of four parts
The game was a thriller. The Philadelphia Athletics erupted for seven runs in the fifth inning, almost blew their lead but held on to beat the Cleveland Indians, 9-8. My Uncle Sam was delighted. He and his brother-in-law cheered from the bleachers at North Philly’s Shibe Park. When they got home to Malvern that Tuesday evening, Sam gushed over the great game they’d seen.
He had promised to take his daughter to see the A’s, but four-year-old Nancy wasn’t feeling well that day. Her tummy hurt. She was glad to see him back after the game and asked, “Dad, can I have a kitten?” He said, “Yes, I’ll get you a kitten tomorrow.”
That night, as she sometimes did, Nancy slept in a small bed in Sam and Ruth’s bedroom on the first floor of their East King Street home. Ruth’s sister and brother-in-law and her parents also lived in the house, which was right next door to Sam’s parents.
About forty-five minutes past midnight, Sam shrieked in his sleep, thrust out an arm and clenched a pillow. Nancy awoke in the darkness, trembling from fright. Her mother left Sam’s side and hurried Nancy out of the room and upstairs to her grandparents’ bedroom. Ruth rushed down the stairs, saw her husband motionless in bed and tried to rouse him. He didn’t stir. He wasn’t breathing. Ruth screamed over and over. Sam was dead.
The attack, like the others that hit him, came out of nowhere. He seemed fine the day before, driving his truck for his lime-spreading business. Now he was gone. Nancy didn’t understand what happened to him. She kept asking her mom, “When’s Dad coming back?”
Sam’s death early on May 10, 1950, resulted from a cerebral hemorrhage due to epilepsy and a blast injury during war service, according to his death certificate. He was thirty-three. His family buried him in the East Brandywine Baptist Church Cemetery.
Seizures had afflicted him for almost eight years, since his days with the 198th Coast Artillery on Bora Bora. His fear that he would never get better, which he communicated to his doctors, had come true.
Nancy is still hurting. She was robbed of getting to know her dad as she grew up. “I’ve always felt cheated,” she said.
For me, Uncle Sam is not even a memory. He died several years before I was born. With the help of my extended family and records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, I got to know him as best I could. He was a good, kind, civic-minded person. Despite struggling with a chronic brain disease, he volunteered with the Malvern Fire Company. The year before he died, he was among the firefighters who raced to the scene of a heartrending accident — the drowning of two boys who’d been fishing in the Malvern Prep pond.
In World War II, Sam happened to serve on a tiny Pacific island far from the action. Still, the Bobcat Force on Bora Bora contributed to the Allied cause in a big way. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Charles R. Shrader, summed up the expedition in a 1989 issue of Military Review. “Despite the insignificant role that the Bora Bora installation actually played in the war,” he wrote, “the experience gained in Operation Bobcat proved immensely valuable as American forces fought their way across the Pacific to the Japanese home islands.”
My Uncle Sam was part of that. I won’t ever forget his sacrifice.
Hi Rick, thank you! I’m glad you liked it.
I got Uncle Sam’s VA file back in the ’90s, when you could call the regional office in Philly and actually speak to a human being.
Thank you for writing and sharing this heartfelt homage.
Oh Jan, thank you. I’m glad you liked the story. Happy trails!