Isaura and I just returned from a month of traveling. Last week I wrote about Billy Harris, the young American P-51 fighter pilot who was shot down over the small farming village of Les Ventes, France in July of 1944. Instead of parachuting to safety, he steered his plane away from the village, dying in the crash in a nearby field. From an emotional point of view, meeting Peggy Harris, his 92 year old widow, was the highlight of the trip. But there were so many more wonderful experiences which I will share in the weeks to come.
During this memorable trip I found myself virtually shoeless! Shoeless, like the (in)famous Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox/1919 World Series, who early in his career played in a game without his cleats because they hurt his feet. Or Abebe Bikila, the shoeless Ethiopian runner who won the marathon in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In my case, just for the record, I was not running base paths or marathons. I was, however, wearing my military dress shoes.
In May I had been asked by the American Legion Post to be the speaker for our Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Ripon Cemetery. I had planned to wear my “Summer Whites” for this event, which is a short-sleeved white shirt, white pants, white socks, and white shoes uniform. As I was leaving the house I glanced down the front of my uniform to make sure everything was in order (ribbons, gig line, creases, etc.) and was shocked to see the leather cracking on my shoes. Pieces of leather were falling off the top of each shoe! Not having another pair, and not having time to change into something else, I went ahead to the ceremony hoping people would focus on what I said, and not on my shoes. I was mortified! I have always taken pride in my appearance, especially my uniforms. Never had I seen shoes come apart like this. After I got home, in the trash they went.
Two weeks later Isaura and I are in France where I am singing with the Alexandria Harmonizers, a barbershop chorus of 100 men, for the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. For a week we were traveling by bus to various locations primarily in and around Normandy. When we weren’t performing, we were rehearsing, or eating, or sleeping, or riding on buses. We performed at places like the American Cemetery in Brittany, the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, a performance and parade in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église (think of the movie, “The Longest Day”), the Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres, and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, among other locations.
In the town of Sainte-Mère-Église we performed on stage in the town square which is right next to the church made famous when an American paratrooper, John Steele, on D-Day, inadvertently found his parachute snared by the church steeple, leaving him hanging helplessly from his shroud lines down one side of the church. He was taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped. For seventy years this French town has had a parachute and a life-sized dummy hanging from the church in honor of the men who liberated their town and country.
The folks of Sainte-Mère-Église had a parade to honor this 70th Anniversary of D-Day, so the Harmonizers were invited to participate. While we happy singers, wearing our black suits, were walking to the other end of town where the parade was to begin, one of my fellow singers tapped me on the shoulder and said, “There’s something wrong with your shoe.” I glanced down at my black Corfams (a synthetic water-repellent material used as a substitute for shoe leather), and sure enough, about half my right heel was flopping to the side. I couldn’t believe it! I served 34 years in the military and never once did I have shoes come apart on me. Now, here in the space of two weeks, both my white shoes and my black Corfams had literally disintegrated! Walking the parade route with half a heel was uncomfortable, to say the least. But to add insult to injury, the next day the other heel came apart. There was no time to buy a replacement pair even if I had known where to go. So I just sucked it up, hobbling along until our final performance, after which I tossed them in the trash in our Paris hotel room.
After our performances were over, we spent time in Paris, visiting many of the historic sights. Then we took the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, ending up in London, England, before flying back to my brother’s home in Virginia just outside of our nation’s capital. We had a few days there to catch our breath before flying back to California, so Isaura and I drove to the Navy Uniform Shop next to Arlington National Cemetery where I bought a new pair of white shoes and black Corfams. I explained to the lady in the Uniform Shop what had happened to my Corfams. She said that a number of years ago there was a bad batch and a lot of shoes did what mine did. As for the white shoe leather peeling off, she said they simply dried out, and that I needed to keep them moist. Wearing them would do that, she said. But I have few occasions to wear them anymore.
Having retired from the Navy Reserve six years ago I never thought I would need to buy anymore dress shoes. I’m thinking these new pairs are the last I’ll ever need. They’d better be!