Video: World War II Veteran Louis O'Geen
Eighty-six-year-old Louis O'Geen tells me that the "guy upstairs" took all of his friends from him, all his hunting and fishing buddies, and he's the only one left. He seems resigned to the fact, though slightly bemused by his own good fortune, if he would ever call it that. Probably not. But he isn't above getting a laugh out of it.
Louis fought in World War II. He saw the gore, the portent, the indecipherable anomaly of war up close, nose to nose with bodies chewed to the marrow and eyes sick with the madness of submerged warfare. Louis was a seaman. He joined with the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor, left his native LeRoy and was dispatched with little haste to some of the most hairy battle theaters in the Pacific and elsewhere.
When the German U-Boats were wreaking havoc not far from Casablanca, he was there. He saw bulkheads torn to shreds. He saw the deck of his destroyer, its hawsers and rails coated two inches thick with ice. He saw the fizzle and flotsam of ships sunk like tinker toy bath boats poked underwater by the vengeful finger of a child.
"I had many close shaves," he says.
Louis almost joined up as a submariner. Almost. Until he saw the subs come up to dock, beaten and barely afloat, ambulances parked on the shore, waiting for the wounded and cracked as they were taken back from the sea that had swallowed their minds whole, often along with some of their limbs.
Ironically, though, the one episode of the war that nearly knocked out Louis O'Geen for good came after the war was already over, in the waters just off the shore of Okinawa when a typhoon tore through the Pacific in early October, 1945. (I think that typhoon was named Louise, and isn't that apt.)
Louis told me that he thought World War II would be the last war. He couldn't imagine how we could do it all over again. Then came Vietnam. Then came Iraq. He's quite fierce in his opposition to the war in Iraq. When I paid Louis a visit Monday, he showed me a drawing he made not long after he got out of the service. The drawing summed up his then and future feelings about war, feelings one can only understand when listening to Louis tell his stories. So let's do that: