Friday, September 14, 2007

Tim Cullen - From The Chorito Hog Leg

Why do people behave in a particular way –in a manner that
is unique to them and characterized by some code, life force or
prejudice? People a lot smarter than your narrator can delve into
the psyche and come up with all kinds of answers as to why a
woman never marries and lives a life apart from the members of
her family – sisters whom she slept in the very same room with,
shared clothes with, sometimes lovers and crushes, jitterbugged
to the same music, anguished over lost loves and shattered
dreams of becoming a singer in Harry James’s Orchestra and
marrying John Agar after being received into the Poor Clares
and told that though the cloister was solace for the dear girl and
all of her religious sisters, that she could better serve God by
propagating the faith and giving her self to a man, might never
understand her estrangement from them and their brothers or
attribute that distance she chose to picking up her older brother
from an L station at 63rd & Loomis in late November 1945.
It happened to Joan Cullen. Her brother took an envelope
from her that had a Giddings, Texas post mark from a family
named Buck - Roper Buck.

That is only an action – an act that is cloaked in meaning for
a small number of people but broadens. Joanie Cullen, seventeen
in 1945 was as pretty as Audrey Hepburn would be to millionsof movie goers in a few years and built the same way. Pious and Pretty – Joanie had not missed a Mass at St. Sabina CatholicChurch from the time she was old enough to walk. Her sisters,
Maeve, Adele and Frances often went with her, but Joanie went every day. Like the day that she would pick up Tim, who had been in the South Pacific since September 1943, was home; atleast he was in Illinois, Joanie had gone to 6 A.M. Mass. PFC.
Tim Cullen, USMCR was mustering out at Great Lakes NavalStation in a small town north of Chicago.

Joanie would meet Tim at the 63rd & Loomis Chicago Transit Station which ended the L line on the south side. Togetherthey would walk to a Chicago Motor Coach street car stop on Ashland and take a street car south to the 81st Street stop and
walk east to their parent’s house at 82nd & Bishop. Tim would tell Joanie all about the war and the places he had been because his letters never said much.
Joanie seemed to change that day. What the hell that surly
bastard said to her, or revealed to her, or explained to her about
him or the ‘precious’ letter from Texas no one in the large Cullen
family knew.

But this story is really not about Joanie at all. It is about Tim
Cullen and a promise that he made to doomed but very much
alive twenty four year old Marine 1st Lieutenant at a staging
camp on the historical island of Guadalcanal, about a year
after that historic and epic battle was fought – and continues to
be re-fought by historians, novelists, film-makers (that sounds
more high toned than movie –makers), bar-flies and teachers.
Tim Cullen’s epic battle – the one that really gave shape and
dimension to the balance of his life and somehow linked the
Battle of Gettysburg, the Little Big Horn, Myles Keogh,
Wild Bill Longley, Gen. Buford , the Texas Rangers, capital
punishment, abortion, Col. Colt, the New Deal in Texas, War
Crimes, the Atomic Bomb and subsequent age, Paul Newman,
Johnnie Carson, Race Riots, nightmares, fraternal contempt,
Robert McNamara, Fire Bombings and heroic but ignored Chamorros to the slaughter of his friends and comrades of
Company A, Ist Battalion, Third Marines, Third Marine
Division at Chorito Cliff/Bundeschu Ridge on the island of
Guam in July of 1944.

Tim Cullen, now in his eighties, reads the Chicago Tribune
at his kitchen table in south suburban Chicago Orland Park and
witnesses the fact that he is still alive and the people attached
to the names in the obituaries -very familiar to Tim Cullen,
especially the ones with an American flag to the left of the
name – are not.

Shrinks and behaviorists could have followed Tim Cullen
around from the day that he got off the L-Car to meet his little
sister Joanie and chalked up his attitude, mannerisms, speech,
prejudices, humor, and decisions and rubber –stamped him as
an example of survivor’s guilt and they would be wrong. They
would package everything neatly and clinically and say – ‘Aha,
this man survived the greatest war in human history and his
friends did not and that is why his wife, children, co-workers,
employees, doctors, dentists, acquaintances and passersby love ,
dislike, or intensely dislike Tim Cullen.’ Survivor’s guilt. Others
might say that he is a racist and others that he is a Republican,
or both.

But Tim Cullen never hit, slighted, hanged, bull-whipped,
Jim Crow Legislated, gerrymandered, cheated, raped, slandered,
or maligned any black man living or dead. He laughed out loud
over Amos and Andy and the worst name that he ever called a
black man was ‘a strike-breaker.’ In San Francisco, when the
Liberty Ship Adam Clay brought Tim Cullen home from Guam,
Tim took the side of a Montford Point Marine ( a black hero)
wounded at Okinawa and being bullied by a crowd of white
Merchant Marines from another ship on the Pier. Tim did not
want to pal up with Cpl. Tedord of Moulton, PA but would not
allow any man in forest green take abuse from the bastards who
ate steak and let Navy gun crews eat shit in their own galleys,
while making about $15 an hour on hazardous duty pay.
Cullen and Tedord’s hazardous duty pay amounted to $60
a month. No steaks and no overtime for Snuffies. They did get
steaks –steak and eggs – before they landed at Red Beach 2 at
Asan, Guam.

Racist? Arguable. Republican? Let’s look on the card. Tim
Cullen voted for Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John F.
Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter,
Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and
John Kerry from the time he left the Marine Corps; that’s five
wins and six losses but a Republican? No, he is anti-Abortion,
Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-Union, and Anti- War – always. He
hates anti-war protestors though. He admires pickets but only
so long as they keep walking, dress like men, and fight for a
living wage – all the rest is Commie Bullshit. He reads the
Chicago Tribune and detests it as a scab-rag.

Tim Cullen is what smart people would call an unextraordinary
man. He is a successful business man (owns one
of the first and largest refrigeration service companies in all
Chicago), has three great kids and ten wonderful grandchildren,
married a girl out of MGM’s greatest dreams and never told
anyone other than his sister Joanie – now dead ten years – what
had happened to him from 1943 to 1945 and what the letter
from Texas is all about.

Everyone else, your narrator included, can only guess what
happened, make a play at explaining what happened, piece tiny
fragments of the puzzle of history, analyze the man against
the sweep and scope and violence of the historical events that
embraced Tim Cullen in the greatest drama ever staged by
Man, or ignore everything and just play life without another
thought to the guy.
Here’s my spin it. I’ll lay the story out to you and you can
accept what comes your way and consider the source. Like I said
before, there’s much smarter people out there telling you what
history and fiction means; so, why not pause for a simple man’s
consideration of history and the fiction that rises from what wecall history. I won’t slander and if I bore you, toss the book and
go watch Bill Maher.

Where do we get an understanding of history and the place
of people we know in that history? I think that it comes from a
story told by an uncle after about eight tall cans of Schlitz and a
couple of pours of Canadian Club or VO about New Guinea or
Bastogne or Inchon or Khe Sahn or Desert Storms I & II, or the
Stockyard Strike of 1904, or Cardinal Mundelein’s visit to St.
Sabina’s, or the Democratic Convention, or Super Bowl XV.
I also think that it might come from an artifact – a tooth
stored for decades in a plastic capsule, a doll’s arm wrapped in
tissue paper in your mother’s hat-box in a closet that ‘you girls
were told to never look into’, or an X-ray of someone’s lungs, the
way your mother fell backward into the table full of expensive
registered gifts when Mel Torme walked into Kitty’s shower
and stared right at her.

After all that, we seem to want to frame the talk or artifacts
and try to make a nice ‘something’ out of it. I’ll try and make
something out this story that starts with a promise between
two young men – actually things never start in the middle of
things. That is just what we do to save time. I’ll pop in and out
of what happens in order to try and balance the things that are
unfolding – I’ll do my best not to be a pest or interfere too much.
I can be a huge pain in the ass; bear with me.

Here’s my story – history or fiction or fiction with history
-scotch and soda. Which is the scotch and which the soda?
You tell me. Maybe that is how we determine history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat:
I can relate to the el stopping at 63rd & Loomis, dances at St. Sabina''s etc,the whole shot having been raised in Visitation. You are a great storyteller.

All the best,
Peg Reid