Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meet Joe

Have you ever had a Divine appointment?

Well, my husband and I did today.

After church we decided to get gas and go over to a guitar store to pick up some items we needed for our gigs this week. Of course, we were early for their doors to open, so we drove over to Wegmans to get a few things.

I parked the car and asked Mike if he was coming in and he hesitated, then decided to go to look around. I grabbed a cart and we went down the aisles to get what I needed. Since our stomachs were calling out to us, never a good idea to grocery shop on an empty stomach, we headed for the pizza bar.

They have a wonderful section to eat your purchase so he found a little out of the way table by the windows. As we sat there, he noticed an elderly man reading the newspaper. He wore a Naval baseball style cap. Since Mike’s family has a Navy background, he always checks to see what ship they were on. Mike’s dad was on the USS Antiedam and was a plank owner. We also like to honor those who have or are serving in the military by thanking them for their sacrifices for our freedoms.

So after we finished our pizza, I asked “Are you going over to talk to him?”


We walked over to the gentleman’s table.

“Did you serve on the Reuben James?”

The gentleman replied, “Yes, I did.”

“Then you must be one of the survivors?”

“I am probably the only survivor of the Reuben James.” He replied.

Now, Mike husband and I have a trio called “The Cellar Yellers”. One of the favorite songs that Mike’s dad loved was ‘The Sinking of the Reuben James”. So we played that all the time for him before he passed on in 2008. We just liked the tune but never bothered to find out the story behind the song.

His name is Joe Elnitsky. He said he is 88 years old today and he was going home to tell his wife that some people stopped and talked to him about his naval life. The amazement not only showed on his face but on ours also.

We thanked him for his service and chatted about the sinking of the ship. The boat was in a coalition to protect arms shipments across the Atlantic. As they cruised near Iceland they were positioned to the side of an ammunitions loaded freighter. A German U-Boat fired two torpedoes and hit the Reuben James fore and aft. It sank within minutes and of the 144 man crew, 100 lost their lives and only 44 were saved. That was on October 31, 1941. It was the first casualty of the war before the US entered World War II.

It took two hours for the survivors to be rescued from the sea. Joe was only 19 years old.

Mike and I left Wegmans feeling as if we had spoken to history. It was ‘his story’. What other stories have we missed by not taking the opportunity to speak to strangers wherever we are? How many decisions did we just make in order to have this ‘appointment’ happen? Mike could have stayed in the car. We may not have wanted anything to eat and just left.

As we blessed Joe, he blessed us. We have a new appreciation for a song and have found new meaning to something that happened so many years ago.

We also found a piece of a life that reminded us both of our fathers that are not on earth any more. The patience and courtesy displayed by this honorable gentleman gave us a little bit of time of when our fathers enjoyed talking and listening to us.

We hope we never forget this lesson but now we can say we have a good friend to remember of the good Reuben James.

The Sinking of the Reuben James
Verse 1:
Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James,
Manned by hard-fighting men, both of honor and of fame?
She flew the stars and stripes of the land of the free,
But tonight she's in her grave at the bottom of the sea.

Tell me, what were their names, tell me, what were their names?
What were their names, tell me, what were their names?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?

Verse 2:
One hundred men went down to their dark watery grave;
When that good ship went down, only forty-four were saved.
'Twas the last day of October that they saved forty-four
From the cold icy waters by the cold Iceland shore.

Verse 3:
It was there in the dark of that uncertain night
That we watched for the U-boat and waited for a fight.
Then a whine and a rock and a great explosion roared,
And they laid the Reuben James on the cold ocean floor.

Verse 4:
Well, many years have passed since those brave men are gone,
And those cold icy waters are still and they're calm.
Many years have passed, but still I wonder why
The worst of men must fight and the best of men must die.
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