Pulsing drumbeats


“All in all, we had a good day.”

My cruise mate, Edrie Royals and I were semi-prone in the chairs on our balcony as our ship, the Celebrity Millennium prepared to leave port in Okinawa and set sail for our next stop, Nagasaki, Japan.

The planet-shattering ship’s horn blew. Edrie slapped her hands over her ears and leaned forward in her chair. After a moment she took her hands down and looked over the balcony railing. “I enjoyed our stop at the Shurio Castle Park in the town of Na Ka. But in some ways it seemed to be set up to attract tourists.”

“I felt the same way about the small theme park, Ryukyu Folk Village,” I said. “Glad we did it. But now I can say—been there. Done that.”

“I have one regret,” Edrie said. “That we didn’t tour the Okinawa battlefield or the cemetery.” She shook her head. “But the young guide helping us said he thought either one would be too strenuous for senior ladies.”

“He meant little old women,” I grumbled.

“I grew up during World War II and remember so much about it,” I said. “The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest. World War II was a just and heroic war. Nowadays I think there is a great nostalgia for a time when the U.S. was seen as a force for good in the world.”

Edrie nodded in agreement.

“If we ever pass this way again, touring the battlefield and cemetery will be number one on my bucket list,” I said. “Even if I have to paddle a sampan, pedal a rickshaw, or ride a water buffalo.”


I planted my feet on the ship’s railings and allowed myself to reminisce for a moment.

 “Sometimes I feel like we’re in a far country from those years. I am making no judgments, just saying that we came of age in a different way than young people today. There was no such thing as television. No cell phones, PlayStations or Nintendo. No video games or Facebook. No twitter ditter.”

Edrie smiled, an understanding look on her face with what I was saying.

“People grew very dependent on radio for updates on the fighting and what was going on in the world. Radio was the primary source of news. That, and the newsreels I remember at the Saturday Matinee at the Pix theater.

“We were filled with feelings of pride and duty.” I held up my hand to shield my eyes from the golden rays of a setting sun. “There was a ready acceptance of the need to sacrifice in order to achieve victory.”

Random thoughts twirled through my head.

 “We were taught at home, in school and in the community to love your country and to respect and honor the flag that others were dying for.”

I felt a touch of sadness, and also pride, thinking about how it was for us. I remembered counting my pennies to buy savings stamps as if it were yesterday.

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, and we’ll all be free.

 “The music we heard and sang to.” I took a deep breath and hummed in my scratchy off-key voice. “‘From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, We will fight our nation’s battles on the land as on the sea.”

More than 70 years have passed since I had heard those words, yet just thinking about them sent a chill through my body on this day, in this place.

“Our American heroes did great things for our country and for the world.”

I heard a metallic noise, our ship vibrated. A gust of silence, heavy as a thick wind washed over the ocean, then once again the ship’s horn blasted the silent port.

 “I had a personal reason for wishing we’d seen more of Okinawa,” I said. “My uncle Norris Brent was on two of the islands in the South Pacific - Right now, I don’t remember which ones.” I looked over toward the shore. “Norris lied when he enlisted in the Marines: he was a sixteen-year old, from Summit Mississippi, and had never been out of the state. He fought for his life, our country and the world in foxholes.”

The ships engines hummed, then became a steady background monotone.

“Norris came home with malaria. Even in the sweltering Mississippi summertime, his body would be wrapped in sweat drenched blankets. I remember hearing the iron bed rattling out on my Grandmother Brent’s back porch in Summit. The bed seemed to have a pulsing drumbeat of its own and was struggling to shake off a pesky animal.

“Norris made it home. His family heard part of his story. He wouldn’t tell much of it though.”


Our ship swayed, the motors churned. We were leaving Okinawa.

“Destination Highlights for our next stop.” Edrie held up the brochure with its checklists of sights and tours. “When it comes to Nagasaki, we’ll do a little more asking around.”

The engines moved up a notch, they pounded like a muffled drum roll. Spiked waves hammered the ship’s hull; we were in open sea now.

The salt air stung my cheeks.

I leaned over, reached for the bottom of my shirt and wiped tears from my eyes.

The fading sun threw long gray shadows across the island. In my mind’s eye I could see row after row of graves gracing the Okinawa cemetery; children of another land lay beneath foreign soil, their stories now almost forgotten.

“‘Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer,’” I said softly.


Robert H. Watson will receive Mississippi College’s Award of Excellence at the university’s 2018 homecoming.

Activities include an October 26 awards banquet at Anderson Hall.