I knew my Uncle Bennett by small mementos: the photo of him in uniform in the library of our summer cottage; letters my mom received when his plane was shot down; my grandmother’s poetry when he died; his purple heart; a fraternity mug from Williams college, which he attended before enlisting.
I also knew him from a photo album that showed him, horsing around as a teenager in summer, swimming in the lake and his tombstone in the local cemetery, on which my grandparents had inscribed a few lines from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem:
Here he lies where he longed to be, home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.
My dad said Bennett was the co-pilot of a plane with 16 guys on it shot down over Marcus Island on May 9, 1945, just before the end of World War II.
My grandparents found out on their anniversary. Everyone on the plane died and no one was found. The plane was seen going down and is now likely disintegrated on the ocean floor. It was so long ago. I wasn’t born then.
Nina, my older sister, dug up that his squadron was called the Reluctant Dragons and that he flew a Liberator. Here is a photo she found, too.
I like to think of the reluctant dragon that was my uncle and not the one who got lost at sea and became a phantom to me and my four sisters. But the latter is sharper in that way that absences have.
My mother never spoke about Bennett to me. I don’t know why. I’d like to replace my memory of him with something living, not just a photo or small objects and lines of verse. But I don’t know how.