After waiting several hours by the dock, the commander bellowed for the men to prepare to board the ship. Mike gathered his duffel bag and flung it over his shoulder. The commander called Mike’s name, and he fell in line with the men from his company. He climbed the gangplank to the Edmund B. Alexander, formerly an old German cruise ship, The Amerika, which had been captured during World War I. This temporary metal sailing barracks resembled a tin library with all the men on deck packed as close as books on a shelf. As the vessel departed the harbor, the men fought for a prime spot along the railing to gander a last glimpse of Lady Liberty.
Mike stared over the convoy at the disappearing silhouette of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline of New York, his head swirling with a tornado of emotions. As he listened to the water splash along the hull, his fears washed up from the pit of his stomach in anticipation of the inevitable encounter with enemy troops. Heartache engulfed his mind as he wondered how Helen and his family felt, with their loneliness and fear. He contemplated his own uncertainties. Would he return to America to embrace Helen, or would she be forced to endure the agony of seeing him lying in a cold, dark box?
The bitter air cleared Mike’s head as he stood on the deck and gazed at thousands of stars shining in the endless sky and the soft glow of moonlight on the water. He stared at the awe-inspiring night sky as the ocean winds whisked across his cheeks. God’s beauty and the experience of traveling on the sea for the first time squelched the foreboding thoughts of his journey to the gates of hell.
He lazed in the allure of the setting and daydreamed of Helen resting in his arms, listening to lapping waters on the elegant cruise line of yesteryear. Lying on a chaise lounge during the afternoon and dining and dancing in the evening. Mike imagined the once-exquisite chandeliers and furniture that had adorned this ship, along with tables set with fine china and silverware. Now, the once aristocratic vessel, stripped of all its grandeur, became a bleak, barren mover of bodies across the sea.
Suddenly, the loud voices of men arguing disrupted Mike’s fantasy. The commander ordered them to clear the deck, and Mike grabbed his duffel bag and proceeded to his assigned cabin. Inside the room, the men lying on the canvas-and-iron bunks, stacked five and six high to the ceiling, resembled cargo on a shelf. With all the beds occupied, Mike was assigned to the second rotation for sleep. He didn’t anticipate his eyes closing or his body relaxing and was undeterred that he needed to wait.
He heaved his canvas bag onto the mountain of personal belongings in the corner. As he turned to leave, he noticed the statement “Kilroy was here” with a picture of a cartoonish man etched on the door. Various stories had circulated about the infamous and ubiquitous, yet anonymous, Kilroy. One tale declared a shipbuilder claimed responsibility; another stated it involved an admiral, and one story told about a GI searching for his girlfriend. The origin was not as significant as what Kilroy represented: an encouraging sign of an American soldier who existed, fighting for freedom.
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