Thursday, March 05, 2009

Word Weavers Writing Excerpts --- JACK TUMIDAJSKI

Jack Tumidajski is a Vietnam veteran who lives in the Phoenix area. Originally from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Jack attended Providence College before enlisting in the Army in 1967. Ironically, five days after returning home from the war, he became a quadriplegic as the result of "An idiot driver who did something stupid!" He's been living life on "Plan B" ever since.

After nearly two years of hospitalization and rehabilitation and one and a half years of shut-in living with his family, Jack decided --- like many paraplegic and quadriplegic veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam had before him --- to "roll the dice" and check out life in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Jack spent most of the '70s living in the sunshine of this surprisingly accessible city in the heart of Mexico. In his book, QUADALAJARA - The Utopia that Once Was, he not only takes the reader through his personal experiences, setbacks and triumphs on his journey through "A special place in time", but also chronicles the lives and experiences of many of the original Explorers and Pioneers of an almost forgotten moment in time.

According to Tumidajski, "QUADALAJARA picks up where The Men (1950 movie about paralyzed survivors of World War II, staring Hollywood newcomer Marlon Brando) leaves off, as well as, dispels some of the myths and misconception about this era from Oliver Stone's movie, Born on the Fourth of July."

When back on duty, one of the jobs I acquired was that of Air Force liaison. Daily contact with my Air Force counterpart at Phu Cat Air Base north of Qui Nhon was maintained to alert those further up the logistical line of what supplies were needed and what supplies were being sent from our port city. I remembered my first phone conversation with my Air Force contact at Phu Cat. I was still a naive newcomer. After informing him of what cargo was headed his way, I was told that three cadavers would be on the return flight. I remember being taken aback by his routine manner of speech. I wasn't sure if I heard him correctly or understood the magnitude of what I'd just been told. After sheepishly asking him to repeat what he had told me, I froze for a moment. This was anything but routine for me. I was assured that I understood correctly. Thus began one of my daily duties: learning the always unpleasant news than another mother's son was returning home to a heartbroken family.

* * * * *
As I lay in bed one evening staring at nothing, my eyes focused on a welcome sight: my friends and cousins Rich and Joe were joined by Pat Mckenna. It was unusual to receive such a late night visit, especially on a cold mid-week night as the calendar was changing from February to March, but my mood quickly perked up.

"Great to see you guys," I began, as they approached my bed. I sensed that something was amiss by the lifeless expressions on their faces.

Before I had a chance to think, Rich spoke up, "Bobby's been killed!"

The news of Bobby's death left me emotionally numb. The reality took days to sink in. I was given permission to attend the wake and funeral by an empathetic medical staff. Stage three of my unusual medical procedure would have to wait, and any possible damage to what had already been reconstructed didn't matter. Everyone understood.

Subconsciously, perhaps, I wasn't ready to accept that my close friend was forever gone. Memories of competing in basketball, baseball, football, and all around horseplay that bonded Bobby and I were running through my head. I remembered leisurely walks down Prospect Street past Memorial Hospital on our way downtown on Saturday afternoons in hopes of meeting girls, hanging out on the West Side with the girls from St. Mary's Parish, and double dating with Denise and her sister Eileen. I had so many fond memories; memories that would last a lifetime for me, bur were stolen from my friend at only twenty years of age...

...I remained in my brother-in-law Alan's car for the funeral service. He was able to park close enough for us to be merely a few yards behind the crowd of mourners. Family, friends, and just about everyone from Bishop's Bend came to say goodbye to the first resident of our neighborhood to give his life in service to our country since World War II.

The tragically sad and solemn funeral service was punctuated with the crackle of the twenty-one gun salute that filled the cold morning air. The finality that this military tradition signaled was too much for Denise, as she collapsed and was caught by Bobby's cousin. After composing herself, Denise walked over to Alan's car. We talked for a few minutes before Denise left and a few other friends stopped by to greet me. Ironically, Denise's sister Eileen, who once told me, "If you join the Army, I'll never speak to you again," was not among them.

After returning to my all-too-familiar bed at the VA hospital, a few more days passed. I was watching the Saturday afternoon college basketball game --- a game in which Notre Dame defeated the seemingly invincible UCLA Bruins --- when tears began to flow from my eyes like water pouring uncontrollably from leaky faucets. Reality finally thawed my previously numb emotions. Bobby Taylor was dead.

* * * * *

In memory of Bobby Taylor and all those brave souls who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms that we, too often, take for granted.