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.