The Man in the Black Vinyl Satchel

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By Robert Edward Jimenez, Sr. Film Reviewer Latino Weekly Review

I didn’t know him.  I was born a month or so after his death.  Yet I have carried my Uncle Eddie’s name as part of my own middle name for 67 years.

I look like him. I see that in the sepia faded oval framed photograph of Edward Jimenez in uniform; the same photograph that my grieving grandmother hung over her bed, beginning the day she learned of his death in 1945.

I once made up the story that Uncle Eddie had fallen bravely while storming a Normandy beach on D-Day to impress my friends.  But there was no heroic death on the battle field. Eddie Jimenez lit a gas stove one morning and it exploded in his face; an odd, unromantic way to die in America’s most famous war.

The Army sent home a large metal foot locker which my grandmother kept in her basement. It was full of tan shirts, brown uniforms with blue eagle insignias on the shoulders, dungarees, a dress parade cover, scarf’s, and a belt; things that smelled like they had been packed in an airless box for too long. Most impressive was a black and silver Hitler youth knife, a Purple Heart medal and a steel helmet.

What I was never shown was a small black vinyl satchel that my father kept to himself. Dad, himself, had served on a World War II U.S. Navy destroyer, had seen combat in the Solomon Islands and survived. He talked about his own war experience, but never about Eddie and the stove explosion.

I gave little meaning to it until my father’s own death.  After his memorial, my sister Marylou, handed me the satchel and told me dad wanted me to have it.

Inside was the answer to my father’s silence, grief, regret, sadness and unwashed tears that he hid from me for more than 60 years.

Inside was my uncle Eddie’s personal effects; an American flag with 48 stars on it, a cork from a champagne bottle Eddie had opened somewhere in London, the address of his British girlfriend, a safety razor, a broken cigarette lighter and wrist watch  and strangest of all, the wallet and identification of a dead German soldier.

Inside was the man in the black vinyl satchel whose death was profoundly unforgivable and unworthy of mention; memories so painful that they twisted in my father’s gut like a knife, and stabbing me as well when dad would get angry and slap me for the smallest offense.

If my father could speak to me today, would he say that his anger and regret were simply the result of a lost brother?   Or, would he say Eddie should have died in combat, worthy of the sacrifice God was asking; worthy of the same sacrifice thousands of other Americans were making?

I believe it to be the latter because dad may have been secretly hiding what most American’s felt in those days—that you accepted death in combat, but you got mad, very mad when a soldier or airmen or sailor died  accidentally, needlessly.

I’ll never know because my father kept Eddie’s black vinyl satchel safely tucked away, never opened or examined, never talked about or wondered about or anything.

This Memorial Day 20012 I placed the satchel on a small table in front of Eddie’s American flag that I hung on the front porch.  Quietly I spoke to my father and said: “Dad, Eddie died the same way all others died in war—with honor—and worthy of being talked about as often as possible.”

Reflection on the life of my father:

Luis Benito Jimenez died at the age of ninety one at a hospital in Reno, Nevada last year outliving his brother by 81 years never fully able to be a war hero because of his brother’s death.  Luis nearly lost his life when an explosion knocked him off his destroyer.  Proud of being Mexican American dad’s World War II story was that he was would have drowned in the ocean if an African American soldier had not risked his own life to jump in after dad bringing a life raft and saving him so that I could grow up with a father. I don’t know the name of that soldier, but, he’s always been a part of the Jimenez family history. 

 

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