Thursday, March 6, 2014

Last Flight

Lt Eugene Rice, USAAF, 1943

I have had a half-dozen ideas for posts in the past few weeks, but they seem too trivial to think about, given the events of the past week.

Our father was found unresponsive a week ago in his nursing home near us in Mechanicsburg and was quickly sent by ambulance, not for the first time, to Holy Spirit Hospital.  He had been overwhelmed once again by pneumonia and internal infection.  He never really regained consciousness except to acknowledge my brothers Ron and Jeff when they called; his last words to Nancy and I when we visited him the day before were: "More than you know, I appreciate your visits."  The three doctors involved over the next three days concluded Dad could not get any better; the anitbiotics he had then and many times before just wouldn't work anymore.  We were warned that when the respirator was removed, he may not last long, but he did indeed keep going for 24 hours until 4 p.m., March 1.  Without the medical interventions, poking with needles and the painful-looking respirator, he became more and more peaceful and we saw him breathe his last quietly, with no struggle.

We had never spent so much time together as the last nine months, while Dad was first in the hospital and then a nursing home in Florida, and after August when he was moved here.  Brother Steve gathered up many old pictures and as they stimulated his memory, we heard stories of very long ago, the people and places in the pictures not remembered by hardly anyone still living.  Memories of family visits to his grandparents way up in the country of Perry County were the fondest.  He also asked about old co-workers and schoolmates, and we found a good deal of information that he appreciated hearing.  A way of saying goodbye to everyone, it seemed.

There were about a dozen boxes of pictures, records (even a set of report cards from the early 1930s), souvenirs, letters and  greeting cards at their home, so we have a lot to remember our parents by.  High school graduation announcements, dance cards, awards, newspaper articles -- especially his moment of fame when the hometown paper published a handsome picture and account of his B-24 sinking two Japanese vessels and wrecking a half-dozen more.  They were all recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross, but got Air Medals instead.  Dad was the bombardier and well deserved it. 

He never told us much about his WWII service from 1941 to 1946, except for two stories about how miserable life was in the Southwest Pacific:  that they learned to wear helmets all the time, since the monkeys loved to drop coconuts on their heads, and a grim one about a tentmate being fatally bitten by a giant spider.  Oh, and how much they enjoyed their banana moonshine.

We will all be speaking at the funeral tomorrow and if I go on like this then, I will take up all the time.  There is so much more to remember about a 95-year life, but I know we can all say,

                                                    "Well done."


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