F R O M T H E J O U R N A L O F J. M. L I N C O L N
THE OCEAN’S GLORY
For the last 18 months I’ve been a crew member aboard the The Ocean’s Glory, a fishing vessel that calls Cape Cod its home. My arrival here was largely based on hope. Following the war’s end and my return to America in 1945, I again sought out my children. The search brought me from New York to New Jersey and north along the coast, eventually to Massachusetts, but I found neither Janey nor Joshua. Another dead end.
There was no immediate need to return to New York, so I sought employment and quickly found work as a deck hand. The job is daunting. We sail before dawn and do not return until nightfall. Often we are at sea for several consecutive weeks. When not fishing, we drink to excess. The captain of the vessel is a weathered navigator named Mitchell. Mitchell is all of forty-five years, but he wears the features of a man ten years his senior, the price of a life spent at sea. His hands, like his demeanor, are gruff from years of physical labor. A once black, thick head of hair is gray and thinning, with only sporadic streaks of its original hue toward the back of his neck. His waist is full and his arms barrel thick. He drinks cheap scotch, never minding to pour it into a glass flask before swallowing deep. I am concerned for the man’s safety, having seen with my own radiographic eyesight the damage he’s wrought upon his liver. But such warnings cannot be uttered, lest my mental acuity be questioned. Best to let the man live his life.
It occurs to me I am nearly 90 years of age–twice that of the captain, and while in my mind I feel much older, my strength and stamina are as they were twenty, if not fifty, years ago. I drink with my shipmates and we discuss war stories, love stories, and life stories–I remain ever careful to reveal too many self–truths. My vigilante actions during the war, for example, will not be revealed to these men or to anyone else. Those memories will live and die with me here upon these pages. For now, it is 1947 and I am a fisherman; I desire little else from life save to, perhaps, one day see my children again, though in truth I know not whether they are still among the living.
The years aboard The Ocean’s Glory pass quickly like the tides. In the past eight years I’ve transitioned from landlubber to an experienced man of the ocean.
My career at sea ends on May 8, 1955.
We are twenty miles at sea when the storm hits. The waves are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even Mitchell, who’s logged more miles at sea than the most experienced naval captains, is aghast as he turns the wheel hard to port. But I know his effort is wasted. There are seven of us aboard The Ocean’s Glory. There are three life preservers. The waves rise above the ship’s hull and crash across her deck in violent, uncontrolled fits of hostility. The engines cut out and all is quiet but for the savage storm.
“To the deck,” I tell my shipmates.
My command is met with astonished eyes.
“This boat is going to capsize. Do you want to live or do you want to die?”
There is no time to debate. There is no time at all. The storm rips through the starboard side of the vessel and the ocean rushes in to greet us. We are overcome with panic and urgency. There is no time.
My head and body vanish beneath the cold water and when I emerge again The Ocean’s Glory is gone, consumed by a ravenous tide. The waves around me rise and fall with such rapidity that for a moment I cannot tell left from right, top from bottom. The trio of life preservers floats next to me, mere inches distant. Reaching the floatation devices requires tremendous effort and several minutes but at last they are in my grasp. The sky and waters are black, becoming lit only for brief seconds by strikes of lightning.
I spot Mitchell first, fifteen feet distant. I scream out to him and swim in his direction. At last he sees me. After what seems an eternity he is within arms reach.
“Take this!” I shout, and thrust a life preserver toward him.
“What’s the use? We’re dead men! Dead men!”
“Do it!” Captain Mitchell reluctantly grabs hold.
“Do you see anyone else?” I ask, ignoring his panic.
Eventually we spot Collins and DeWaltt. Eventually we spot them all. Heads bob up and down as if spring loaded. Eventually we are one, a single floating unit in the middle of a twisting, raging sea. We are one. We are alive.
Despite the overall pessimism of the captain and crew, I do my best to help to keep us buoyant, at times becoming a living life raft for the tired and wounded to cling to. Finally, long after the storm subsides, we are spotted by the cargo ship Cigale en route to Miami, Florida.
It is in Miami that I make two startling discoveries: First, that Joshua, my only son, is dead. Second, that a newspaper advertisement may quite possibly affect the remaining days of my life.
I learn of Joshua’s fate while reading The Miami Herald several days after The Ocean’s Bounty became an appetizer for an insatiable ocean. He’d made the front page. Eerily, I learn much about Joshua’s life in the article. Joshua had been a pilot with Transworld Airlines for several years, having completed flight school in his early forties. He was an experienced pilot with more than five-hundred-thousand air miles logged, having flown to every continent including Antarctica. He’d planned to retire early, at year’s end.
Transworld Airlines Flight 19 had departed Miami Airport at 9:55 a.m. EST en route to Rome, Italy. The storm that was bombarding the hull of The Ocean’s Glory was, 1,800 miles south, also decimating the Florida coast. Flight 19 had a crew of six and a passenger load of 105. Joshua had flown through many storms. In extreme weather it was standard operating procedure to fly above the storm. But twenty-three minutes into the air, on ascension from 35,000 to 40,000 feet, a lightning strike destroyed the left engine of the jet. The plane plummeted 28,500 feet in a matter of seconds before slightly leveling off. Joshua and his copilot, a twenty-one-year-old novice named Brad DeLaney, who’d only been flying professionally for three months, struggled to bring the plane down gently atop the Atlantic, while radioing SOS. But at 535 feet above sea level the left wing of the plane, its metal fuselage severely compromised by the electrical strike and strain of the jet’s rapid descent, collapsed, and Flight 19–and everyone aboard–plunged into the Atlantic. Miraculously, more than half of the passengers survived, and were dragged aboard the Coast Guard rescue vessel Sea Tiger. Joshua’s body, and the bodies of several others, was pulled from the water. The rest of the deceased were lost to the raging sea.
I contact Transworld and learn that Joshua was listed as having no living relatives. As such, the airline coordinated his burial. He was laid to rest in Routtonvale, a rural Louisiana town town outside of New Orleans. I soon discover that the cemetery in Routtonvale is host to hundreds of airline disaster victims who have no family. The thought of my boy lying among strangers whose only commonality is to have perished catastrophically angers me. He should not be there among the lost. A curious thought begins to form in my mind.
“MEN WANTED. MASKS REQUIRED.”
I mentioned earlier a newspaper advertisement.
I discover the ad in the same newspaper in which I learn of Joshua’s death. It may be helpful if I first explain the current political climate and ideology currently prevalent in the America.
Following the nuclear assault on Japan, the world found itself at a curious crossroads. While destructively the U.S. had proven its superiority to the world, the country’s leaders realized it was only a matter of time before the other global super-powers–in particular, the Soviet Union–developed their own weapons of mass destruction. With the threat of the “red” menace constantly on the minds of America’s leaders, an undercurrent of fear permeates our society. Individuals whose believes deviate from the norm are targeted. Patriotism is a matter most serious, and written or spoken statements to the contrary are not tolerated. The private lives of hundreds of individuals are placed under the U.S. Senate’s scrutiny as the search to identify persons with “communist allegiances” intensifies. The neutrality once prevalent in the U.S. has been replaced by a policy of active, if not overreaching, involvement against individuals and nations deemed a threat to democracy, whether true or not.
The cautious paranoia eventually spreads toward America’s “super humans” population. Individuals such as the American Dream, the Nuclear Family, and Five-to-Zero are questioned before the newly formed “U.S. Congressional Subcommittee to Protect America from Potential Super-Human Hostiles.” During the Subcommittee’s opening sessions, held July 15, 1954, the American Dream, whom I consider the single-most patriotic man in the nation, is scrutinized and publicly denounced as a communist, a charge he vehemently denies. He weeps publicly before the nation, expressing his love of and for America. His sincerity is genuine, yet the Subcommittee continues to assassinate his character, calling his exploits during World War II “theatrical acts designed to manipulate a nervous nation into seeing something that really wasn’t.”
Several days later, on July 19, 1954, nearly 4,000 former GIs march on Capital Hill, demanding to publicly affirm the American Dream’s patriotism. The request is ignored by Congress; but while the Subcommittee continues its investigation of super-humans, the persecution against the American Dream diminishes greatly. Dozens of other committees and subcommittees are formed, the purpose of which is to dissect even more individuals to protect the nation against communism. We are the strongest nation in the world. We have the bomb. But we are also fearful that one day soon we will no longer be elite in this regard. We look at our neighbors with suspicion. A unifying symbol is needed to save us from ourselves.
The newspaper advertisement appears on page 33 of The Herald. The ad appears between two other announcements, the former of which denotes a wedding engagement while the latter lists an apartment rental. Between these ads is a most unusual message: “Men wanted. Masks required. Inquire 231-b Palm.”
The room is dim and dirty. It appears as though a thick layer of invisible oil hangs upon all four walls and the floor. The ceiling, an ornamental tin design circa 1920, appears withered and beat. A thick layer of oxidation stretches, fungus like, from the right corner of the ceiling outward. A single lamp illuminates the room. The room’s solitary window is largely obscured by thick, blue drapery. Two men sit at a small table. Sit and read. They seem indifferent to my presence. A third man stands near the window. I feel awkward in the presence of these strangers, though perhaps it is merely the silence that causes this sensation. Minutes earlier they’d watched me catch a bullet in my bare hand. The two seated men continue reading. The standing man is nearly obscured in shadow. He suddenly speaks.
“For the past three months I’ve been traveling from city to city, placing the same ad in newspapers across the country. Most men who walk through that door are sent away a second later. Most, but not all. Seated are Red and White. I located Red in Seattle. White I picked up in Boston. Try not to let his accent annoy you too much.”
The men identified as Red and White nod slightly without looking up, as the standing man continues. “I wasn’t sure where I’d find you, but I knew I’d find you sooner or later; it was only a matter of time.”
“What exactly . . . do you do here?” I ask.
“Here? Nothing here. This is just a room, and a substandard one at that. Nothing is done here. What I am doing is recruiting men of unique and extraordinary ability. Three in total. Red, from Seattle. White, from Boston. And you, Blue. I’m forming a team that’s going to help restore faith in the the American ideal, and I think I want you to be on it.”
On July 4, 1956, The Red, White, and Blue makes its official debut at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in a much lauded press conference. More than 3,500 spectators are in appearance as President Dwight D. Eisenhower begins a brief, albeit colorful, opening speech. We are introduced as the “New Dealers for a new era.” The reference is not lost on the crowd. The New Dealers was a super-human crime-fighting unit created under the FDR administration in the 1930s and answerable to FDR alone. Although formidable, the lives of the New Dealers were abruptly lost during an altercation with a super-criminal known as The Monopolist.
“This isn’t the 1930s,” Eisenhower reminds the crowd, “and these new champions–this trio of liberty–will work as a special unit, assisting the police and FBI. They will also handle covert assignments.”
We stand there, at a small podium before a large crowd of curious onlookers. There is laughter. Skepticism. Indifference. But to many of the older adults in the crowd who, perhaps, recall the New Dealers and the causes for which they stood, we represent hope. To the children and adolescents in attendance, we are viewed as real-life comic book heroes, which, in a sense, I suppose we are. As I stand draped in a blue uniform that is part cotton, part chain-mail, and entirely too warm for Philadelphia in July, I begin to feel as awkward and self-conscious as a child on the first day of school. As I stand before the gazing eyes of thousands of ordinarily citizens, I start to wonder if I’m not dreaming. My mask feels surprisingly cool against my skin, but the metal fastener is too tight across the back of my neck and makes me feel more awkward.
“Recently,” Eisenhower tells the crowd, “we’ve seen the emergence of ‘super-agents of evil,’ whose main objective is the annihilation of freedom and democracy. Individuals such as The Red Death and the self-proclaimed Stalinist pose a threat to the security of our nation and to the safety of its people. I can assure you the apprehension of these individuals will be the top priority for The Red, White, and Blue. Furthermore, with this patriotic trio leading the way, we will witness the uniting of Americans from coast to coast, citizens from all walks of life will unite in a common cause–the preservation of freedom and democracy.”
He continues to speak, but my thoughts are miles distant. I gaze blankly across an ocean of faces, wondering if Janey is in the audience. I doubt I’d even recognize her.
At the conclusion of Eisenhower’s speech, my new partners and I raise our right hands and join them together in a symbolic gesture of unity. An explosion of color, a modest display of Red’s powers, encircles our joined hands. The audience responds with cheers and applause. I begin to witness for the first time the vehicle of propaganda. I not only see it, but am behind the wheel. The stage show ends. Eisenhower shakes our hands then quickly departs.
There’s no turning back.
NEXT: . . . as a Mad Immortal Man continues.