Where the monkeys have no tails ...

Dee Davidson Cox Guest columnist

My four older brothers and I grew up in Swannanoa. Since, like most small towns, there were not a lot of activities offered, my brothers and their accomplices, er, friends, became rather creative in choosing how best to spend each day. So creative, in fact, that by the time my brother Freddy reached his junior year in high school, our parents realized a change was necessary in order to curtail his lifestyle.

They enrolled him in Toccoa Falls Institute in Toccoa, Georgia. This was then a strict Presbyterian high school and junior college, and they hoped it would be good for him. Actually, it was.

When he came home for Christmas break, Dad uncharacteristically asked him to say the blessing at the dinner table. We bowed our heads and Freddy prayed a beautiful prayer. When he finished we all sat in stunned silence. So as to explain himself, he said, “unquote” and began to eat. As soon as we could realize this was a new Freddy, we joined him.

Shortly before the end of his senior year, Pearl Harbor was attacked, deeply affecting the lives of most Americans. Freddy wanted to be a part of the war effort but, being only 18, needed his dad’s signature. He wanted to serve in the navy and Dad knew it was only a matter of time before most young men would be drafted, so he signed the necessary papers and Freddy enlisted. He trained in Great Lakes, Illinois and was assigned to a PT boat and sent “overseas.”

It was a difficult time for the family as we did not know where this teenager had been sent. We would occasionally receive a V-Mail letter from him, which was a joy and a relief. But after the censors had removed all words or phrases that could give away his whereabouts, the only words left in the letter were “Dear Mom and Dad, the, and, but, for, Love, Freddy.”

When we were quite young, our mother would sing nonsense songs to us. One such song began, “Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga ...” We never wondered about Zamboanga but just enjoyed the silly song. I do not know the origin of the song nor have I ever heard it since then, but we all knew it.

One day a V-Mail letter came from Freddy and in it he remarked, “It’s funny but the monkeys don’t have tails here.” My parents went to the atlas and discovered Zamboanga was a city on the peninsula of Mindanao in the Philippines.

This information brought about mixed feelings. We had some idea where he was but were aware of the intense fighting in this area. This teenage boy was on a pretty small “PT” boat, amid intense conflict.

Several years later, thankfully, he returned home, no longer a boy but a man, having experienced things no teenager should have to carry with him the rest of his life.

It was only a few years before his death in 2014 that he began to speak of his experiences and the horrors of war.

Will we never learn?