ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. | The sound of the chain saw started early Wednesday.
The neighbors, among the many good ones we have, are putting in a pool, and a big live oak is in the way. I predict a lot more kids’ laughter coming over the fence, which I don’t find discouraging. I hope they don’t mind an old dog barking back at them.
A guy in a hard hat is up high on a lift a day after he cut out the crown a limb at a time. Crown is a good name for the top of a tree. He’s now taking down the trunk a short piece at a time, holding it in place with one hand while running his chainsaw with the other. He plays that saw like Yoyo Ma handles a horsehair bow although the sound is markedly harsher.
I prefer the sound of a chainsaw to that of high winds although the saws usually follow the winds. He was very busy after Matthew, but Wednesday, it was just a routine workday.
I’ve never rode out a hurricane and it’s not on my bucket list. I went through Typhoon Hester on Oct. 23, 1971. It made landfall around Chu Lai and DaNang and tore up everything. It destroyed planes at the air base at Chu Lai and, west of DaNang, flattened Camp Eagle, the base camp where I was with Co. A, 3/21st Infantry Regiment.
We had flown in from the bush the night before and everyone wanted to get to the post exchange at Freedom Hill the next day where you could get pizzas and banana splits, although the pizzas could be topped with baloney and you got whatever ice cream flavors were available including chocolate mint, coffee and pistachio. They were still good with tree-ripened bananas.
We usually hitched rides on trucks on Highway 1, but the rain was coming sideways and no trucks ran that Saturday morning.
So we battened down in our plywood barracks that looked like a mini-chicken house. The wind heightened as some guys passed around quart bottles of 100 proof courage and mirth. We cheered for the storm when it blew the front door open and lifted the tin roof above dropped back into place. Minutes later the front wall, door and all, blew in and came at us and the front third of the roof folded backward. Shoddy but expensive construction, I’m thinking.
Another soldier and I grabbed a thin mattresses off a cot as a shield against the flying sheet metal and ran out the back door. After running about 30 feet, the mattress felt like it had taken on 100 pounds of rainwater and we dropped it took cover behind a big rock just as a piece of flying tin hit another man in the ankle and took him down.
We spent the night in a metal fire department building and after the storm passed a couple of us country guys and a carpenter drafted out of Guam rebuilt a couple of barracks from scraps.
As I write, one of my men, Pfc. Dolores Rodriguez-Cruz, who went through Hester may be going through Irma. Hester’s winds were at 103 mph when it made landfall. It killed three Americans and an estimated 100 Vietnamese and destroyed 90 percent of the houses in DaNang. Houses with walls made from C ration boxes aren’t that hard to bring down.
We tossed around a lot of good-natured insults in Vietnam, but Rod, as we call him, took everything literally. I lost count of how many times he responded with, “Damn you, Deekson. I’m going to keel you.” Rod was one who helped rebuild the barracks.
I hope Rod is all right in Puerto Rico, and I hope my old friends Kathy and Beaver Brooks come through the storm well in Gonaives, Haiti, where they operate Much Ministries. They are converting an abandoned warehouse on 1.4 acres into a market place with a cafe, boutique and other businesses. All the profits go to help Haitians as did much of the profits from the business they once ran in Waynesville, Ga. Impoverished Haiti seems to be a favored target of hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes that take what little the citizens have. Now here comes Irma.
On her Facebook page, Kathy Brooks said she prays the storm will go harmlessly out to sea. She’s not the only one praying for that. Mayor Lenny Curry said he’s praying that Irma will turn and that he’ll keep praying. It’s odd that those who ask God to spare them from storms are often ridiculed, but not much is said after the storm veer away.
Kathy also said this: The thing we remember today is this: Keep breathing. Seriously, I keep finding myself holding my breath. I spent most of yesterday pretty much terrified. But today … I breath.”
Don’t let this storm take your breath. If it’s heading your way, leave, go somewhere you can breathe.
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