- Byliner Original
A lunch in France … Peter becomes Craig … snapshots and a Bronze Star … the son who wouldn’t be a hero
You can tell from the shipboard notebook my father started when he was twenty-three years old that he wanted to be a writer. You can read him practicing, can feel the young soul that wants to render the world into words, wants to get better at it, wants to have readers.
By the time I’d become a professional writer, I had no idea that my father had had the same ambition, because I never knew him. He was blown to pieces off the fantail of a destroyer into the shallows near the Japanese island of Okinawa. They identified him from his dental records: Lieutenant Robert Navarre Simmons, United States Naval Reserve, executive officer aboard the USS Longshaw. That was in May 1945. I was two and a half years old; my sister, Pamela, was ten months.
Our mother, Winifred, always called him Robert but didn’t talk much about him. There were photos, and short narrative scraps about how they had met, about how he had walked her all the way to the top of Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro before he kissed her for the first time. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell us his story, their story. She just couldn’t bear it. His death put a sadness in her, deep and lifelong. Her way of keeping for us the details of their short life together was to collect in loose-leaf binders the hundreds of letters they’d sent back and forth over the years between 1940 and 1945, and to carefully wrap in heavy brown...