Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Siwash the Duck

Today is Veterans' Day. Today we remember and express gratitude to the brave men and women who serve and who have served our country, who protect our freedom and fight for the freedoms of others.

But let us not forget the brave waterfowl who also fought courageously, side-by-side with our soldiers.

Siwash the Duck should have, would have, could have been dinner had my grandfather, Francis "Bap" Fagan not won her at a church in New Zealand as a Marine preparing to fight in the Pacific.

What was a Southside Irish Chicago athlete, more famous for his skill on the diamond or in the ring than for his warlike inclinations, to do with a stupid, skinny duck that would probably taste as good as the sole of his boots?

Why, teach that duck to drink beer, fight Japanese roosters and boost the morale on the homefront and abroad, of course.

Unlike his granddaughter, Bap was not the kind of guy who liked to draw attention to himself. But Siwash, that batallion's mascot and Bap's faithful friend, drew the attention of the press. Siwash became a celebrity and my grandfather humbly let that duck, reputed by my mother, Jude, to be meaner than a junkyard dog, take the spotlight.

That's right. Jude met Siwash. That means that Siwash not only survived the raffle which was meant to signal her debut on a platter, but also survived bloody battles on Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian, the treacherous trip home to Chicago and all of the paparazzi attention she garnered along the way.

See the handsome soldier featured standing in the shot? Yup. That's my grandpa, known to my cousins and me as Big Papa. And those are his beautiful sisters, Eileen and Patsy, and his mother, my namesake, the amazing Nora Fagan.

Never was there a less bellicose man. And yet he faced down dangers we can't imagine to protect his children, their children and millions of people he'd never meet. He fought to protect us ... and that silly duck. If that doesn't demonstrate a soft heart and an iron will, I don't know what does.

Thank you, Veterans. Thank you, Big Papa. I love you, miss you, I'm proud to be your granddaughter, and I will forever be your "hainchel." May you rest in peace. And may Siwash, the brave and lucky duck, also rest in peace, stuffed as she is in the Marine Corps Museum.


Graham said...

Great blogging, you!

Nora said...

Thanks for reading, Graham! Big Papa deserves a whole book, but I'll start with a humble blog post.

Jude said...

Nora,thanks for the great blog on Veterans Day. Hope to see more of you in the near future..

Jenn said...

Love it! Goosebumps all over! the pic is awesome!!
I miss your writing and can't wait to read more!

Luke Baggins said...

That is a great post, but fyi, marines don't like being called soldiers.

Nora said...

Interesting, Luke. I had no idea, and at some point, I will go through and change "soldier" to "jarhead." Just kidding. But seriously, thanks for the heads up.

danillo said...

I just read in an old Life magazine I have about Siwash the Duck and Francis Fagan. Great story!