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The Dying Sailor

This week we celebrated Veterans’ Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in many other parts of the world.

I had three great-uncles serve in the U.S. forces during World War II. One of these men gave his life for his country. The other men continued on with life after the war. One married and settled down. The other, Harlow Goessel, did not. He was an interesting uncle who lived a very transient lifestyle for many years. He traveled as a hobo on trains, he never married, and eventually, sadly, ended up on “skid row” in San Francisco where he lived alone, eating one meal a day: spaghetti and beer. His sister, my grandmother, tried to keep track of him. At times that was a challenge. In the end she was with him.

I believe he experienced some depression or what we might call today PTSD. I remember meeting him and sensing that about him. Still, he was a sensitive soul. He read a lot of non-fiction books, which he boxed up and mailed to my mother, having no children of his own.

When my grandmother passed, I inherited a small folder of different things. In that folder, which she kept close to the end, were a few poems written by Uncle Harlow on a very old typewriter. Since he chewed tobacco, as with the books he sent, the poems were heavily stained with tobacco. I had always hoped to include it in a book to honor him. Sisterhood of the Sword is about World War II, but there was never a place for it there. So I will give it its own place.

In honor of veterans around the world, I share one of his poems here. A glimpse into a world none of us today will ever experience first-hand.

The Dying Sailor by Harlow Goessel

A dying sailor was laying

On the deck one day,

And his shipmates gathered round

To hear what he had to say.

Well shipmates, this is goodbye

And, I want to go with peace of mind

So, will you say goodbye for me

To all the girls I’ve left behind.

When you go to San Diego

Go see Anna Clews

Tell her that I have gone

Upon my last cruise.

If you get to San Pedro

See Tina, the sailor’s friend

Tell her that I thought of her

To the very end.

Should you go to Frisco town

Go to Chinatown by the sea

Tell Anna May Wong I loved her

For she meant so much to me.

If you go down to Panama way

See the girl, Rosetta McBride

And tell her that some day

I’ll see her on the other side.

If you get to Honolulu,

See the hula dancer, Anita Alcoa

Tell her it was nice knowing her

And give her my last Aloha.

If you get up to Philly

Say goodbye to Terry Hart

Because, you know, shipmates

She’s the only one who ever broke my heart.

Then go on to Boston town

And see the waitress they call Judy

Tell her she would be a widow now

For you see, she almost married me.

Then, if you go to New York

See Lola, the actress of Broadway

Tell her the good times we had

Remained in my memory always.

Now shipmates, there is one more girl

I would like you to see,

For this girl is the only one

Who meant so much to me.

She lives in the small town of Sexton

In the state of Idaho.

If you ask anyone where she lives

Everyone you ask will know.

And when you see her, shipmates

On the porch in a rocking chair

With her knitting on her lap

And her long, silvery hair.

And when you see her smile

And light up that pretty face,

Well shipmates, she is the one and only

For, no one can ever take mother’s place.


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