Why there's a boat in my grandparents' front yard
In my grandparents’ front yard, there’s a boat. Not a canoe, or some little fishing boat. A boat. A big one. One you could happily live on and sail around the world. But it sits in the grass, bow pointing to the north. Over the years the paint has yellowed a bit, the weeds have grown up around it. The boat has been in the yard my entire life, just waiting for the day it meets the open water.
That boat also saved my grandfather’s life.
My grandfather was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. Running out of food and ammunition, the General Wainwright surrendered the troops in an effort to save their lives. Then on April 9th, 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly marched 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga. Roughly a 60 mile journey.
My grandfather was one of those soldiers. Then he was placed on a ship and taken to a prison camp in northeast China where he would spend the next three and a half years. The stories he tells about what he and many, many others suffered during their time as prisoners of war are chilling, and hard to process.I’m lucky that he’s able to talk about his experiences, even if they are unpleasant. But the one story I hold on to is the one about the boat.
My grandfather always said that the men who didn’t have anything to hold on to, anything to dream of back home, those were the men who didn’t make it. During the night, when the soldiers had as close to a moments peace as they could get, they would reminisce about home and what they would do when they got back. For some it was a special girl waiting for them, or a piece of land to farm. For my grandfather, it was a boat. Perhaps it was the Norwegian blood and Viking instinct, but he just wanted to build a boat. And, as he sometimes puts it, he just wasn’t planning on dying.
Some time later, his camp was liberated by the Russians. After some hiccups, including a typhoon and a floating mine, he made it back home. In between re-enlisting in Korea and spending nine months in combat, working of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and raising a family, he built that boat. Now it sits in the front yard of the house he built. A little yellowed and still waiting for its day on the open water, but forever a symbol of hope.
Hope that even through torture and war, we can endure. It embodies the belief that life is worth living, it’s worth pushing through and waiting for that better tomorrow.
I know we don’t all go through what he went through. Not even close. But we do all fight our own battles and suffer our own demons. We all need our symbol of hope. We all need a boat in the front yard.
Story by Karman Rosendahl
[Image courtesy author]