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black smoke and the plane had to be careful and lucky to escape being caught in this bunch of metal. Destroyed enemy planes were sometimes displayed at fairs for all to see and create more war bond sales. Battleships plowed through the heavy seas and water came far up on the superstructures but that couldn't hinder our Navy. The Navy anthem, Marine anthem, and the Army Air Force song always got the hair on the back of one's neck to tingle.

Christmas Eve came, finally, and our home was filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins- and of course, there was Grandpa Hughes. I don't recall what we had for supper, but after supper was gift exchange- perhaps a new toy, probably made from pressed cardboard and maybe a pair of gloves, and, as always, a new pair of plaid socks from Grandpa.

Following the gift exchange, my Father, as host, asked his Dad, my Grandfather, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the good crops and other things of 1944. All of us were silent and Grandpa began; thanks for safety, thanks for good crops, thanks for the new baby grandson, thanks for holding the cars together, thanks for good health, on and on he went. Nothing new, heard it all before. Hurry up Grandpa, I want to put that toy airplane together and drop marble bombs on my brother. Then-then, he added a simple request to Heavenly Father, "and please, Heavenly Father, watch over our Kenny". Wow! Here was my Grandpa, admitting that he thought our Kenny, my strong uncle, my admired uncle who could blow the most beautifully round swirling smoke rings time after time, who could utter the lowest guttural croaks ever heard, who could throw a big "throwing rock" clear over the barn, who could shoot a fast pheasant with only one shot, needed to be watched over. How could that be?

And with that simple request from that humble old gentleman, my entire "lighthearted" interpretation of the possibility of our Kenny being hurt, or worse, came to an end. Because I knew, if Grandpa was concerned enough to make this request to Heavenly Father, then I'd better also be concerned.

Epilogue

Uncle Kenny did survive the West Pacific Battles and Okinawa and returned unscathed just in time for Christmas '45. Years later, when Kenny lay bedfast, fading from life at the seemingly young age of 65, he told me in a one to one visit in his home of some of his adventures in combat. I listened to interesting story after interesting story and finally said, "You're making me glad I missed out on all that". He glanced at me, looked back at the ceiling with a rather faraway look in his eye, was quiet for a few seconds, and then with a degree of sincerity that can only come from love and really knowing what he was talking about, quietly, in his low voice, said, "Yes, I'm glad that you did". ...He lived only a few more days.

Above: Grandpa Hughes (Charles), left, with Kenny on the right in 1940. That's Grandpa Hughes' brother Guy in the middle.

Left: Grandpa Charles Hughes as a young man in about 1898. He was born in 1880 and raised about 3/4 mile south of Pleasant Grove Chuch and School.
A glimpse at a disappearing art of plowing with horses. This 2006 scene recalls a time that would have been commonplace in Milford Twp before the 1920's. A time when, if you happened to time it right and met the farmer who was working the field "just across the fence" you could stop and let the horses rest a bit, put your foot up on the fence wire and you could visit with a neighbor. All that has disappeared now with the air-conditioned cabs, and fewer fellows in the field. It's too much discomfort to climb out of the comfortable cab into the heat, besides, if a guy wants to visit, there's the cell phone, perhaps tonight when the rates go down.

The Kate Shelly Bridge was dropped into the Des Moines River on 17 Oct 1933. This was the site near Moingona, in adjacent Boone County, where, in 1881, Kate Shelley crawled over the bridge and warned an oncoming train that the track was out ahead.

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© 2012 Mark Christian
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