UNITED STATES—He was told to be afraid of the scorpions and spiders that lurked in the banana plantations. Sam the elder and Sam the younger went to the packing shed and the docks in Porto Cortés. The company extended now far beyond Boston and Bogota. He could see reflected the aging process in Rebecca. It responded to the aches and pains that came with both age and tremendous wealth, Sam Delaney spent every winter in Honduras where he lived in the white house of the verandas and the hanging tiger orchids.

Sam Delaney, Jr. was privy to it all in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Colombia—to be in the grid of streets, houses and stores, schools and hospitals, golf courses, banana fields, bowling alleys, golf courses and swimming pools. This was the template inherited from the Waspish cadre that had created Allied Fruit, which he accepted as his own. Being the outsider and as strong a spine as the immigrant from Besarrabia, deferred to that vision. Sam always believed in working with what you already had. Duplicated it down to the encircling of electric fence.

Even as a kid Sam Delaney, Jr. saw it all; gin-tonics and Dewar’s White Label Scotch on cross-ventilated verandas, endless aches and pains, cowboy boots, horses, pistols, a khaki-uniformed force, locals-born who were moody, broody, surly, deferential –you name it–. Plenty of horses and pistols. The produce markets in the streets (and Sam was very careful to always know where Junior was when they threaded their way through)— and to not let him out of sight. During the lean years after the stock market crash, he’d never forget what happened to one of the grandchildren of Major Keene, who was kidnapped, and Major Keene never recovered from that. Going to pick up his grandson and finding a burlap sack full of bone, gristle and blood.

Junior enlisted within days of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He played football, but his real joy was getting high in the sky on a pair of aluminum wings. Already a skilled pilot, one of the things Rebecca indulged over her own heavy heart, he went to train with the Army Air Forces that first summer of the war. He earned the nickname the Silver Ghost before leaving for his speed tests of daring like swimming the length of an Olympic pool that was doused with gasoline lit on fire. Sam Jr. was shipped to Morocco and took part in the first battles that the U.S. engaged in in the new war. Sam Delaney, Jr., despite his wealth and privilege, was no different from anybody else. When the fighting started, you served. If you chose to not go, there was something not right.

Broad-shouldered Sam Jr was placed in the Western Desert Air Force, consisting of British, South African, Canadian and American fliers. It was perilous work. Fighter wings, bomber wings, reconnaissance wings. Shiny new P-51 Mustangs and Hawker Hurricanes waited angled on the runways hardly an inch of space between them. German anti-aircraft guns made things harder, and what made things worse was the fog that settled on the desert floor and the hills that appeared from nowhere. Many did not survive.

“They call me the Silver Ghost,” Sam Jr. wrote home, “I have a way of getting in and getting out before anybody ever sees me.”

In the spring of 1942, Sam Jr. was flying a P-51 modified for photo reconnaissance. Scores of missions he flew, the parched desert falling away and stars clustering in the night sky. Sam crossed German lines into enemy territory, where he snapped photos of ravines, bridged, beaches, military camps, artillery positions, and the tough spots that allied forces would have to deal with. Sam Jr. got assigned to a trading post in Tunisia and covered the amphibious landing of allied forces and an attack on German forces near Gafsa in West Central Tunisia in March of 1943. The Germans were outgunned and outnumbered.

Yeah, transferred to a base in Tunisia. The mess hall there hummed with men from quintet of nations. In a letter home he wrote in pristine penmanship that bespoke the skill of a draughtsman; “I am happiest in the sky when the world conforms into a pattern of lights. I set out again, my plane crawling to the end of the runway, tensing for the takeoff, waiting for the go signal, the rush of speed. It’s a poem repeated over and over. The thrust upward, the hills suddenly below.”

He didn’t say what he was doing as a Recon Pilot. That was top secret. In the Desert Air Force Sam flew low. They had to, to get the good pictures, brush the roof tiles of houses, then swing out over the sea to escape. Sam Jr. took off at sundown on January 7, 1943. He wasn’t thinking that he was not a Jew because his mother, Rebecca was not Jewish. He was just a flier. The ground crew would see him in his helmet. Then the aircraft got smaller and smaller, congealed into a star all its own.

Clearly the star of Sam’s life was Sam Jr. Early on he had shown promise on the football field, he helped get Tulane on the gridiron map. There his aircraft was last seen on the horizon, fading fading fast till there was a last glint and clear dull sky the color of a mirror. Then he vanished.

To be continued…

Graydon is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)