Life Raft Metaphor Ties Letters Home Together

I mention near the end of Letters Home that my grandfather gave away the life raft he and his rear gunner got on after being hit over Kure, Japan, and having to crash land near a destroyer. He gave it to some teenagers passing the house, one afternoon. What I left out is what a surprise this was to everyone. My mom and aunt used the raft as a wading pool. I don’t think anyone ever had a good guess as to what he might have been thinking. I didn’t want to clutter his book with my conjecture, but I felt like it was an important detail to include and let it speak however it might to any readers. He states repeatedly how important it was to him to find a way to pack up that life raft and bring it back with him.

My theory is he survived the emotional turmoil of war by intensely fantasizing about how wonderful life would be after the war and that the hardship they endured as a couple, separated and fearful of his safety, would result in a lasting payoff, a heightened appreciation of a life together. I believe he lived a happy and content life, but I think what he used to get through the war, fantasizing about the happy and contented life he would have, didn’t work in the reverse. He couldn’t dip back into the painful memory of being at war to remind himself how “privileged,” a word he liked to use, he was to have survived the war while so many didn’t and get to enjoy that happy and contented life. It was just too painful a memory to consciously engage. So the life raft that he thought would be a symbol he could keep with him to use as a means of purposely returning to that fortunate moment of rescue, specifically, and surviving the war, generally, failed to work as he thought it would. He probably struggled with why it didn’t. After all, his daughters used it as a wading pool, and my mother was seven or eight when he finally gave it away. So he might have kept waiting and then, one random afternoon, when some kids were happening by, he impulsively gave it away. He didn’t want that connection to the war, the same way he never went to the squadron get-togethers. He just wanted to forget. But that’s just my guess and that’s why it didn’t go into his book.

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