While reading an old newspaper that afternoon, I heard a dull distant noise that sounded like a muffled explosion, but I didn’t pay any attention to it.
“A plane went in – a plane went in,” someone yelled.
I ran outside and jumped on the running board of a command car. We drove down the taxi-strip toward the east.
A tall column of black smoke funneled into the sky from fifty feet offshore. We stopped and I stood on a coral boulder that provided a good view.
“My hell” I exclaimed at the full scene. Only fifty feet away a piece of metal showed above the water, burning with the flame of a gasoline and oil fire and sending the cloud of smoke skyward. A propeller poked one of its blades above the surface of the burning water. Farther out in the water and a few feet away, another part of an airplane was partly above the water. There were five men pulling something out of the metal.
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons Edition, 1961)
They waded through chest-deep water with a body and carried it toward me. It was the limp, still form of the pilot. They carried him to within five feet of me. I could see the face burned black, with its scorched remnants of a beard. The white bones of the knuckles protruded from a blackened hand from which a glove had been partly burned off. A steamy smell of charred hair and flesh came to me as they passed.
The pilot was not dead when he was carried past me, amazing though it was that he could still be alive. The doctors did all they could to maintain that spark of life and fan it into flame. They injected adrenalin, administered oxygen and plasma. Fifteen minutes later he died.
The casualty list would rise by one tiny digit in the KILLED IN ACTION column. In a few days his next of kin would receive a telegram informing them of that fact. They would cry and feel very bad. The neighbors would try to console them. A funeral would be held with praying and singing and sentiments expressed – perhaps by someone who had never known him.
A few lives would feel empty, as they had while he was away at college and out in the Pacific, fighting. The father and mother and the sisters and the brothers would always remember him and regret that he had to die so young. The sweetheart would be brokenhearted and hysterical.
Time would pass and the family again would laugh at jokes and enjoy the dancing, the theatres and their fellow men; the sweetheart would find that someone else could matter. She would marry, have children, and soon but faint remembrances of the pilot who died so young, so long ago, would remain.
Very quickly in the lives of mankind all is forgotten. All that remains is the record – DIED IN ACTION.