I promise, if you read enough Westside Story today, you will experience a fantastic tale. The story embedded below is titled, A Great Story. I am not bragging. To be honest, I did not write A Great Story.
My original plan to write a different Westside Story was interrupted when Angelo Scalici emailed me a copy of A Great Story. A Great Story is the true, life-threatening, and harrowing adventure that took place in October of 1942. I knew right away, A Great Story would be far more interesting to my readers than my original story idea.
You be the judge. Originally I planned to write a story titled Westside Story – A Riveting Update On Lakewood’s Rental Inspection Program.
In 1968, a pal of mine, Angelo Scalici, flew to Lakewood landing at McChord Air Force Base for his last assignment as a military pilot with the United States Air Force. Once Angelo arrived in Lakewood, he never left, retiring in 1972 with 20 years service with the United States Air Force.
In 1969, only a year later, I flew into Lakewood like Angelo; well, not precisely like Angelo.
While we both flew into Lakewood, Angelo flew in as Command Pilot on his United States Air Force C-141 Starlifter military aircraft pictured above.
Flying low, I arrived in Lakewood as a Command Motor Car Operator in my 1967 Austin Healy 3000 MK III, British Motor Car pictured below. Once I arrived in Lakewood, I never left, retiring in 2013 with over 20 years service with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Angelo and I have experienced parallel and crisscrossing lives. We were destined to cross paths in future years, again and again, and again.
We worked together as representatives of New York Life Insurance Company during the 1970s. Angelo and I later became Real Estate Brokers. Angelo was the president of my mother’s condominium association, twice.
As a traffic deputy, I often stuffed my maroon patrol car with a Corvette engine behind the giant fir tree in the 25 mph zone on Interlaaken Drive SW.
Traffic enforcement turned out to be another opportunity to cross paths with Angelo. One day while Angelo was speeding on Interlaaken, I popped out from behind the traffic tree. Angelo claimed I came out of nowhere. I am happy to report; we are still friends.
When I stopped being a Real Estate Broker to join the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in 1990, my real estate knowledge and skills would have allowed me to avoid real estate commissions.
I chose instead to use the Realtor services of Angelo Scalici. I volunteered to pay real estate commissions because Angelo was willing and able to do the work, was knowledgeable, was a man of high integrity, was competent, and was Italian.
I love telling people I am friends with Angelo Scalici. For starters, the pronunciation of his name provides an almost musical quality sound. Compare the sound of Angelo Scalici to a moniker like Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, the name of an old radio character from the 1940s.
During the pandemic Angelo and I have complied with the Covid19 – 6′ of physical distancing requirement. Actually, we have 26,400′ of physical distancing between us as we live five miles apart. We do remain close in terms of online social distancing. We are just a byte apart when it comes to email.
If it were not for the fact that I am a rambling, storytelling, Irish – Italian American, I would not have used the 593 words above to say what I could have said in just seven words. Here is my short version.
Angelo Scalici emailed me A Great Story.
Here is the tale I promised you.
A great story
An old Man and his bucket of shrimp.
This is a wonderful story and it is true. You will be glad that you read it.
It happened every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the blue ocean.
Old Ed came strolling along the beach to his favorite pier.
Clutched in his bony hand was a bucket of shrimp. Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now.
Everybody’s gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out on the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts…and his bucket of shrimp.
Before long, however, he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a thousand white dots come screeching and squawking, winging their way toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier.
Before long, dozens of seagulls have enveloped him, their wings fluttering and flapping wildly. Ed stands there tossing shrimp to the hungry birds. As he does, if you listen closely, you can hear him say with a smile, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’
In a few short minutes the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn’t leave. He stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time and place.
When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach, a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs, and then they, too, fly away. And old Ed quietly makes his way down to the end of the beach and on home.
If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like ‘a funny old duck,’ as my dad used to say. Or, to onlookers, he’s just another old codger, lost in his own weird world, feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.
To the onlooker, rituals can look either very strange or very empty. They can seem altogether unimportant ….maybe even a lot of nonsense.
Old folks often do strange things, at least in the eyes of Boomers and Busters.
Most of them would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida … That’s too bad. They’d do well to know him better.
His full name: Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a famous hero in World War I, and then he was in WWII. On one of his flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went down. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft.
Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they fought hunger and thirst. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were or even if they were alive.
Every day across America millions wondered and prayed that Eddie Rickenbacker might somehow be found alive.
The men adrift needed a miracle. That afternoon they had a simple devotional service and prayed for a miracle.
They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose. Time dragged on. All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft…suddenly Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull!
Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal of it – a very slight meal for eight men. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait….and the cycle continued. With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were found and rescued after 24 days at sea.
Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first life-saving seagull… And he never stopped saying, ‘Thank you.’ That’s why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.
Reference: (Max Lucado, “In The Eye of the Storm“, pp…221, 225-226)
PS: Eddie Rickenbacker was the founder of Eastern Airlines. Before WWI he was race car driver. In WWI he was a pilot and became America’s first ace. In WWII he was an instructor and military adviser, and he flew missions with the combat pilots. Eddie Rickenbacker is a true American hero. And now you know another story about the trials and sacrifices that brave men have endured for your freedom.
As you can see, I chose to pass it on. It is a great story that many don’t know… You’ve got to be careful with old guys, you just never know what they have done during their lifetime.
END OF TALE.
As a war hero, Eddie Rickenbacker led the way, but others followed in his footsteps, including two of our City of Lakewood neighbors.
Take my neighbor and friend, Alex Melovidoff for example. He is easily recognized as a war hero. He was only 20 years old fighting for America when on November 16, 1944, Lieutenant Melovidoff was shot down over German-occupied Austria.
With only one engine working on his B-24, and the plane engulfed in flames, the entire crew attempted to parachute to safety.
Alex, who served as Co-Pilot, was captured along with his Pilot by Hitler’s army. During his interrogation, the phrase that later became familiar in war movies was screamed at Alex. “For you, the war is over.” Alex spent the rest of the fight in a prison camp in North Germany, waiting for WWII to end.
Alex is a hero as he served his country with honor and distinction like Eddie Rickenbacker.
Now here are some Angelo Scalici military facts:
- Angelo was never shot out of the sky.
- Angelo was never captured by the enemy.
- Angelo never bobbed around on the ocean in a rubber raft.
- Angelo never had his mail forwarded to a prison camp.
While Angelo’s military career is obviously devoid of the more dramatic events experienced by Captain Rickenbacker and Lieutenant Melovidoff, Angelo is a war hero too.
You have to admit, Angelo proved extremely competent when it came to flying military defense missions. I say that because the evidence is clear. No enemy of the United States of America ever attacked DuPont, The City of Lakewood, Steilacoom, or University Place during Major Angelo Scalici’s watch.
I am pushing 80 as Angelo pushes towards 90. Who knows? Someday when we are both old enough to be considered “old guys,” we might enjoy looking back to contemplate what we have done in our lifetime.