That’s My Uncle Lee!

In the summer of 1946, my father rented a house in Saybrook on the Connecticut shore for a two-week family vacation. Saybrook is where the Connecticut River empties into the Atlantic Ocean and the house, I remember quite clearly, was set just a couple of hundred feet back from the beach.

At the same time, just 35 miles up the coast at a Navy base in Westerly, Rhode Island, my Uncle Lee was within a few days of being discharged. He was one of the Navy’s best—a fighter pilot, flying the Grumman Hellcat from aircraft carriers.

It was a bright sunny day—mid-afternoon,  as I recall—when one of us spotted a lone airplane flying parallel to the beach, but far out to sea. The blue-gray plane swung into in a graceful arc, gathering speed as it approached the beach.

It wasn’t until the plane had started a low pass down the length of the beach—its engine a deafening scream—that people began to react: children running in a panic, frightened babies wailing for their mothers, dads gaping at the plane as it roared by.

My brother Tom and I—he was seven, I was nine—we were jumping up and down, waving our arms at the plane and gleefully shrieking, “That’s my Uncle Lee! That’s my Uncle Lee!” and completely ignoring my Dad, who was desperately hissing, “Shut up! Shut up!”

Uncle Lee put the Hellcat into a graceful arc, circled around, and made another pass, this time not so low and perhaps a hundred yards out over the ocean. Then he climbed and headed north, back to the Navy base at Westerly, Rhode Island, leaving behind a vivid memory that is, to his day, one of the thrilling moments of my life.

So here’s to Uncle Lee … one hundred years old today. Hauʻoli Lā Hānau!