Iowa Writes

MARK A. WERKEMA
Nile (Part 2)


        I realize, as this mystery starts to unfold, history may have written a different ending.  I began, in a mystical way, to understand this genteel soul and his torment.  The mystery lie not in the recorded facts, the mystery lay in the man-image I was sitting with at the table.  It was the ending he was in search of; the one he had never found.
        I pondered who this war veteran might be.
        I began to wonder, take memory of the legend.
        I remember a story around the Hawkeye State . . .
        I knew of the legend in Big-10 football.  The Heisman Trophy winner.
        I now saw the complete manifestation.  His true spirit.
        "Nile?"  I posed.
        He smiles.
        "Kinnick?"  I look at him and wonder.
        "Yes."
        Silence.  A long stare.
        "Kinnick's been dead for decades. 1943," I said.  "But I remember, he was lost at sea in a plane crash . . . a fighter plane in World War II."
        "Well, 1943 was a long time ago."
        "And now, you live here?"
        "Let's just say I still live in Iowa City."
        I sigh not believing what has been revealed to me.  I sit back in my chair and look at the man in front of me.  The image becomes clearer.
        He reflects.
        "I come down here a lot, coffee here, breakfast over at the Bluebird Diner, lunch at Hamburg Inn No. 2, go by the Public Library on rainy days.  I wander the ped mall on nice days.  I like to read the magazines at the University Library and look at the river."
        "You are . . . Nile Kinnick?"  Utter disbelief.
        He nods and smiles, almost bashful but humble in a reassuring way.
        "So, it is you?"
        "It's me for certain."
        "But how . . ." he interrupts before I ask another question.
        "Alive, well, no, let's just say I am here.  He laughs coyly.
        I think, he is an angel, a ghost, but he is real to my eyes.  I glance at a gold ring on his finger; it is an All-America football ring.  I revel in this mystery no one would ever believe.  I shake my head slowly in denial, but wonder about the man I have just met. How could this ghost icon be?
        "You look in good health, 92 and all . . . you are part of history here.  I just don't under . . ."  He stops me.
        "Well, people once knew who I was around here - but it was a long time ago."
        "Well I am here to tell you Mr. Kinnick, you are a real legend around these parts."

        I realize, as this mystery starts to unfold, history may have written a different ending.  I began, in a mystical way, to understand this genteel soul and his torment.  The mystery lie not in the recorded facts, the mystery lay in the man-image I was sitting with at the table.  It was the ending he was in search of; the one he had never found.
        I pondered who this war veteran might be.
        I began to wonder, take memory of the legend.
        I remember a story around the Hawkeye State . . .
        I knew of the legend in Big-10 football.  The Heisman Trophy winner.
        I now saw the complete manifestation.  His true spirit.
        "Nile?"  I posed.
        He smiles.
        "Kinnick?"  I look at him and wonder.
        "Yes."
        Silence.  A long stare.
        "Kinnick's been dead for decades. 1943," I said.  "But I remember, he was lost at sea in a plane crash . . . a fighter plane in World War II."
        "Well, 1943 was a long time ago."
        "And now, you live here?"
        "Let's just say I still live in Iowa City."
        I sigh not believing what has been revealed to me.  I sit back in my chair and look at the man in front of me.  The image becomes clearer.
        He reflects.
        "I come down here a lot, coffee here, breakfast over at the Bluebird Diner, lunch at Hamburg Inn No. 2, go by the Public Library on rainy days.  I wander the ped mall on nice days.  I like to read the magazines at the University Library and look at the river."
        "You are . . . Nile Kinnick?"  Utter disbelief.
        He nods and smiles, almost bashful but humble in a reassuring way.
        "So, it is you?"
        "It's me for certain."
        "But how . . ." he interrupts before I ask another question.
        "Alive, well, no, let's just say I am here.  He laughs coyly.
        I think, he is an angel, a ghost, but he is real to my eyes.  I glance at a gold ring on his finger; it is an All-America football ring.  I revel in this mystery no one would ever believe.  I shake my head slowly in denial, but wonder about the man I have just met. How could this ghost icon be?
        "You look in good health, 92 and all . . . you are part of history here.  I just don't under . . ."  He stops me.
        "Well, people once knew who I was around here - but it was a long time ago."
        "Well I am here to tell you Mr. Kinnick, you are a real legend around these parts."
        "You know they have a bronze statue of you over at the Stadium, your name is on the marquee?" I pause.  "They talk about you in military and sports stories, on ESPN, when the Heisman is awarded every December, your legacy was written up in Sports Illustrated a couple of years ago.  They play your acceptance speech before every home game."
        "Well that's quite an honor . . ."
        "Mr. Kinnick . . ." I say as he interrupts.
        "I appreciate that, but, well, you know I have a real affection for this place -- never wanted to leave or leave now.  That's why I am here.  The college football games, Iowa City, I wanted to finish law school and practice law here.  You know, the War changed a lot of things for us all.  But that is life, and sometimes we do not know why it turns and twists as it does.  I was proud to be a fighter pilot and fly for my Country -- more than getting the Heisman Trophy, and I mean that."
        I paused in an admiration.  "America should be proud of its heroes, Mr. Kinnick, at war on the battlefield more than on the gridiron.

        Gray clouds lined the horizon as far as one could see that day, painting the sky over the sea from horizon to horizon.  The blue salt-stained Navy Wildcat fighter was at three-thousand feet or so when its engine began to sputter.  It coughed, bucked in defiance, and snorted as a rocker arm on the big 1820 radial engine came apart, instantly creating a sick engine spewing black oil, streaming back across the windshield.
        He was flying four miles in front of the ship; now spiraling down to the water below, beginning an entranced slide to the sea.  Nile Kinnick had taken off from the carrier an hour and twenty minutes ago at 0830, flying over the Gulf of Paria, in between Venezuela, the mainland coast of South America, and the island of Trinidad.  Calm waters seemed to lie below.
        This had suddenly become about dying.
        Kinnick struggled to nurse his plane and sick engine, leaning left in the cockpit, struggling to see forward past the dirty oil stream that blurred the cockpit glass and covered his goggle, helmet, and flight suit.
        Within minutes, the engine gave up.  The silence was suddenly deafening, just the sound of the wind sweeping by.  The glide to the sea began.  Without power, the big fighter dropped in a fast descent.
        "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. . . . Tiger 03" he yelled into the microphone, broadcasting his distress call.  "Tiger 03, emergency, Lex Ops, this is Tiger zero-three, Mayday. . . ."  His oil pressure gauge showed a noticeable drop, the oil quantity gauge was near zero.  He knew, in an instant, the engine could seize and that he was, undoubtedly in great trouble.
        He prepared as best he could to ditch, bringing her down smoothly on the sea; nonetheless still a perilous circumstance for any Navy flyer.  He was going down, just trying to survive.
        His wingmen and the ship were no where to be found.  He felt very alone.  Within minutes he would be in the water.
        He thought to himself -- Try to survive, that is all.  Ditch in the water, as smooth as possible.  Get out, get in to the raft.  The rescue will come soon.
        But his fears prevailed.
        Being knocked unconscious.
        Injury, cuts . . .
        Death by drowning, that terrible fate.
        If he survived, the sharks.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MARK A. WERKEMA

Mark A. Werkema is a writer and international airline pilot, and former military aviator from Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is at work on a novel of Amelia Earhart and a non-fiction historical narrative of two plane crashes.  His writing focuses on aviation and sports themes, and the human spirit and experience found in both.  He came up with the idea for this story while, on a morning run, he passed Kinnick Stadium.




Nile will appear on the Daily Palette in three parts.  If you missed Part 1, be sure to check out yesterday's page.

This page was first displayed
on December 30, 2015

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