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I remember being little
sitting with you
as you told us
about the ship going down
The Japs, you said,
put torpedoes into her
and nobody knew she was out there
They went into the water
under the searing South Pacific sun
clinging to their kapok life vests
The next day the sharks came
The men tied themselves in a circle
as the sharks picked them off,
one by one, by one,
amid the screams and delirium
Some of the men, you said,
swam off to tropical paradises
they’d never reach
Others unclasped their jackets
and gave themselves to the deep
Men died of thirst
in thousands of miles of ocean
Others couldn’t help themselves
and drank from the poisonous sea

You told us with such passion
I always thought you were there,
in the water,
with the floating limbs
surrounded by death itself
And yet, I didn’t believe you
Such an unimaginable fate
had to be from your imagination

You never told me
about that first week on Tinian
when the monsoon
turned everything to mud
How your poncho became your tent
about the K-rations and coffee
about the burn of the mosquitos
and the fever, the deathly chill in the broiling sun

You never told me
you built the greatest airport in the world
Where five hundred warbirds
departed day and night
incinerating the wooden cities
of Amaterasu’s son,
about the fiery crashes
of overloaded bombers
about the strafings by
hopeless one-way Zeros
from Iwo Jima

You never told me
you stayed behind
on that gleaming July day
as majestic Indianapolis
appeared on the shore
Did you go aboard to retrieve her treasure?
Did you know her secret?
Did you know yours would be
a forgotten role
in the greatest, darkest moment
of human history?

How did you feel
seeing the Silverplates
take to the skies?
When did you know
that you’d helped
bring Hell itself to Earth?

What terrible fate
did they hold over your head
if you ever told what you’d done?

How did you feel?
knowing your grandchildren
would never in your lifetime
know the truth about the day
you told us about
the ship