Monday, February 15, 2016

Uncle Lawrence and Alzheimer's



I had three uncles: my mom's brother and my dad's younger twin brothers. My favorite was Uncle Lawrence, the youngest of my dad's brothers albeit by only a few minutes. He was exceedingly energetic and endlessly positive. Not only did he work 40 to 50 hours as a journeyman electrician, but he would clean the house, do the laundry, cook the meals, do the dishes, wash the floors, and maintain the house. I am afraid this, however, became a problem for his daughters when they married. Each of them, I suspect, expected their husbands to be like the father. That was not going to happen. They have all been divorced.

When he would come to visit us at our home, unbidden, he would begin to repair things around our house much better than my father would ever could have done so. He was always happy to see me, welcomed me with open arms and wanted to know about my life. Nevertheless, he was given to fits of inexplicable anger out of character with the rest of his life.

On December 8, 1941, my Uncle Lawrence volunteered for the United States Navy. He served on two carriers, the USS Princeton and the USS Wasp both of which were sunk. Being a quartermaster, he was below decks both times and escaped. Family lore has it that my grandmother received two missing in action reports regarding him. The Wasp, off Guadalcanal, was hit by three torpedoes launched by a Japanese submarine, setting off gasoline fires, leaving the ship a blazing wreck. According to my uncle, he was in the compartment next to one that was hit and told me if that torpedo had been 20 feet in another direction I would not have been talking to him. The Princeton was sunk at Leyte Gulf after being struck by a bomb. When my son and I watched the episode regarding Leyte Gulf in the documentary Victory at Sea[1], I told him to watch carefully and perhaps we could see Uncle Lawrence's ship blowup. Indeed towards the end of the episode there was film of the Princeton exploding, causing the death of more than 200 sailors on the USS Birmingham, which was alongside the carrier to help fight fires. During both episodes, according to my uncle, he spent several hours in the "drink". Luckily he was the best swimmer of the three brothers.