Keep an Eye on My Purse: a War Story

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by Tracy Stimpson

The first thing my dad did on his 18th birthday was to lie to his priest.

Dad needed a document to prove how old he was and his priest held that document.  The priest asked dad if he was going to use the document to join the war.  Dad shook his head and told him he needed it to play baseball.  The next day, my dad joined World War II.

Edgar Stimpson, at left

Dad was stationed in Scotland and was a tail gunner in a sea plane called a British Short Sunderland. Their mission was to keep the English Channel safe by monitoring it for U boats.  One day they went on a training flight. Onboard they had flash bombs that they used at night to judge the distance to the water.  Dad thought one of the bombs looked strange on the bomb rack but they all dismissed the concern and continued on with their mission.

Dad said he watched the bomb fall off the rack mid-flight.  Before he could get a word out of this mouth, the bomb hit the floor and exploded.  It blew a 4-foot hole in the side of the plane and shot several pieces of shrapnel at dad.  The metal pieces hit dad in the right eye, breaking it into several pieces, blood shot across the plane.  The Sunderland was a strong plane and was able to land safety with the large hole in the side of it. The other brave men onboard took care of dad and they rushed him to the hospital. Days later they operated and removed Dad’s right eye and his time in the war was over.

Gunners in a Short Sunderland (Wikimedia)

Artificial eye technology has improved vastly since the mid 40’s.  Dad’s first eye was almost round like a marble and fit very poorly.  When he came home, a bunch of them went bowling.  On dad’s turn, the sudden stop at the foul line caused his eye to come out of the socket and shoot down the alley. Dad had to explain to management why he was walking down the alley as they yelled at him over the loudspeaker.

Ever since then, he always had a sense of humour when it came to his eye.  When I was a kid, throwing the ball with Dad never went well. With only one eye, his depth perception was off and I always ended up hitting him in the head with the football.

In the 80’s Dad went on a golf trip with his buddies to Miami.

One night at the bar a woman was chatting with my dad.  When she had to go to the bathroom, she asked dad to keep an eye on her purse.  Well dear reader, from the title of this story I guess you can tell what happened next.  Dad popped his eye out and gently placed it on her purse.  There may have been some screaming from her and some laughing from dad and his buddies.

My dad rarely spoke about his time in the war. Most of the stories he told me were light-hearted.  Only once did he tell me a serious story. We were drinking together one day and I was bugging him about the war. He got mad (my fault) and told me about having to kill. I never saw sadness in my dad like I did that day.

Dad only went to one Remembrance Day gathering and that was near the end of his life. Although he was a Legion member for most of his life, he never ever went to the Legion on Remembrance Day. I asked him why but he wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Maybe he didn’t want to remember. Dad passed in 2010 just short of this 86th birthday. I will miss him forever.

For me, Remembrance Day is a time when I look back and remember all those brave souls who had to do things that they wish they could forget.