Never a dull moment

By Cornelia Read

Hi guys, I am reposting an entry I did for The Lipstick Chronicles blog on Saturday… this has been a hectic week–moved into new apartment, flew to Florida for a funeral the next day, now am in Syracuse visiting with my ex-inlaws, so I hope you’ll forgive me. Also, my Uncle Bill was an awesome guy, and I’d like to honor his memory twice…

I don’t call this post “Never a Dull Moment” because I expect there to be no dull moments while you’re reading it, because who can promise that, but because it is the Read family motto. I think I may have posted the mold of my grandfather’s crest ring here before, but hey, here it is again in case you missed it:

Read, W. A crest

Just so you know I’m not kidding about the motto and everything.

I was thinking about it quite a bit this week, since–first of all–it was another kind of riotous week, in terms of basic Cornelia activities, and–second of all–because I just spent three days with a whole bunch of Reads.

This is because after moving in to my new apartment on Tuesday, which entailed getting up at six a.m., driving to Brooklyn, meeting the moving guys at the U-Haul storage place on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, making sure the truck got loaded, driving back in to Manhattan, meeting the moving dudes here, and overseeing or whatever while they hauled all my shit up the four flights of stairs to my new apartment

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and then driving back down to 157th street to my pal Muffin’s apartment where I’d been living for the last two weeks and packing up all my clothes and crap after the moving guys left (pause here to reflect that any person WITH an actual BRAIN would’ve done this the night BEFORE, so that the moving guys would’ve hauled the eight bags and one box of china up the four flights of stairs) and then hauled my eight bags and box of china up four flights of stairs by myself, and then buying some Chinese takeout for me and my kid–who was having a bit of a first-semester-of-college meltdown–I got up at six thirty a.m. the FOLLOWING morning and took the A train to 125th street and then the M60 bus out to LaGuardia and flew to West Palm Beach, because my very dear Uncle Bill Read died last Friday, and my sisters and I were going to his funeral.

Uncle Bill was the eldest of my father’s nine siblings. He was 93 years old. Two days before he died, he was hunting alligators on his wife’s family’s ranch near Immokalee. On Monday, his new wheelchair was arriving. He was not a wheelchair kind of guy, to put it mildly. So, he died peacefully in his sleep Friday morning instead.

Here is a picture of him when he was a little kid:

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It was done in pastels. There used to be seven of these, of the oldest seven kids, hanging downstairs in my grandparents’ house in Purchase, New York. They’re all rather beautiful. Something about pastels makes the eyes very soft and wonderful.

He was named after his father and grandfather, both William Augustus Reads before him. Here’s a towel he had in Palm Beach:

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I figure it has to be pretty old, since he hasn’t been a Junior since Grandaddy died in 1976, and somehow it just looks totally Twenties to me anyway.

Uncle Bill is the guy I got to go shooting with this summer on a ranch in Wyoming, which was pretty fucking awesome. He took me to his gun club, and I totally sucked at trap shooting, but then I did better when we did target shooting with pistols and a crossbow the next day, so he didn’t disown me or anything, and I felt slightly less ashamed.

This is a man who took shooting really, really seriously. And fishing. And being an honorable man. He was really nice, which is not often something one can say about people I’m related to, generally.

Also, he was kind of a hottie. Here’s a picture of him a while back, so you can see what I mean:

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Yeah, right?

Here’s another one:

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The Read brothers were damn good looking, and he was the best-looking of all of them, if you ask me. And quite possibly the nicest.

That second picture is of him in the Navy in World War II. In which he had some pretty amazing adventures. He was shot down in the Pacific and missing for almost two months, and ended up getting two purple hearts and a Navy Cross. I didn’t know before his funeral service that the Navy Cross is only topped by one medal if you’re in the sea services (Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard.) That would be the medal of honor.

Here’s a picture of some of his decorations. I’m sorry it’s sideways:

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A Marine Corps general came to the funeral, and spoke, and presented the flag from his coffin to his daughter, my Cousin Edith. The Navy sent a sailor to play taps, and two to stand at either end of his coffin in the cemetery.

Here’s a short video of the latter guys (which pans around to one of the two cool cowboys who flew in from the ranch in Wyoming–AWESOME belt buckle):

 

 

The Marine Corps sent some guys to shoot off a salute. Which was awesome.

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And the Navy also sent a bunch of planes that flew over the cemetery in formation. One of them peeled off and flew straight up trailing a stream of white smoke, then turned back and away. This is called the “Lost Man” formation, to signify the death of someone the Navy liked a lot. They sure liked Uncle Bill, and rightly so 

 

 

 

(added music… and I’m really happy I got the “lachrymosa” aligned with the planes… but check out how the little cloud at center left turns into a peace sign…. Looks good in full-page mode, because then the ad doesn’t cover the planes.)

 

Uncle Bill was shot down in the Pacific and stranded on an island with members of the crew of the plane for two months. With a compound fracture to his thigh from the second day on.

Nonetheless, he managed to drive a samurai-sword wielding Japanese soldier into the ocean by throwing coconuts at his head. The guy presumably died. If you’d like to read more details, check out this article from the U.S. Naval Institute, “Two Coconuts and a Navy Cross.” It’s pretty amazing:

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Here is a closeup shot of his drawing of a Japanese plane getting shot down the next day over the island. The engine broke off and skidded up the beach and killed the man standing next to him, and really, really messed up Uncle Bill’s leg:

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Here is the telegram that went out after he was rescued:

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I asked him what it was like to be a bow-turret machine gunner in a glass ball on a Navy plane in the Pacific during World War II when I was in Wyoming last summer.

He said, “Well, I’ve always liked hunting, and the ammunition was free, and there was no bag limit.”

Here’s his drawing of the view from the turret:

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He got a lot of Japanese planes:

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Here he is sitting in front of my grandparents’ house, back in Purchase (probably before the war):

 

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He’s sitting in the second row on the left with all his siblings, his parents, and his first wife, after they all got home safe from the war:

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My dad was the baby brother–he’s sitting on the floor, in the white shirt.

Here’s Uncle Bill holding Cousin Edith, his daughter and the eldest of my generation. She’s a lovely,  remarkable woman in her own right:

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And here is the service flag Grandmama Read had, during the war:

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Her husband and six of their sons served. They all came home alive. That’s a goddamn miracle, if you ask me.

Here is Uncle Bill at age 92, or thereabouts, with a dead alligator:

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Here he is with a twelve-foot alligator he shot last winter:

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Here is his obituary from the NY Times (paid section…):

 

WILLIAM A. READ Jr. 

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READ–William Augustus, Jr. of Palm Beach, Florida and Cody, Wyoming was the eldest of nine children. He was born on Beacon Street in Boston, Massachusetts, May 16, 1918 to Admiral William A. Read and Edith Fabyan Read. Mr. Read grew up in Purchase, N.Y. and was educated in New England, attending St. Paul’s School and the Hun School. He married Kathleen Cushman Spence and they had one daughter, Edith Fabyan Read (Wey). A divorce occurred subsequent to his missing-in-action status during WWII. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy, graduating from the Navy Aerial Gunnery Instructors School in Pensacola, Florida. He was Range Officer at the Navy Border Field Machine Gun Range in San Diego, California and became the Gunnery Officer for the Navy Patrol Squadron 101 in the South West Pacific on the Navy version of the B24 Liberator. He was shot down on his twenty fifth combat mission as Bow Turret Gunner for the Commanding Officer of the Squadron. He and some of the surviving crew were able to swim to an island in the Sulu Sea near Palawan Island within Japanese territory, where they lived on coconuts. He was wounded again in a second crash in which a Japanese plane was shot down and landed on some of the surviving members of the crew, killing two of them and further wounding the others. He was missing-in-action for two months. They were rescued by the submarine, Gunnell. His decorations include two Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, and the Navy Cross. Lieutenant William Read had flown 25 combat missions without flight pay. After the war, he became a partner with Phelps, Fenn and Company, a municipal bonds firm in New York City. In 1959, he married Isabel Uppercu Collier and they subsequently moved to Florida. They had been married just short of 50 years at her death in 2008. His skill in shooting has led to his qualification for the Navy Pistol and Rifle Expert. Mr. Read won the gold medal in the Olympics in the International Skeet Veterans Class. He is also in the Trap Shooting Hall of Fame, has won and successfully defended the Pennsylvania 50 Bird Challenge Cup, and defended it for a year. He has achieved his 100,000 target American Trap Shooting Association Pin. After his retirement, he became a licensed alligator trapper in South West Florida, near the family ranch in Immokalee, priding himself on filling his quota of 160 alligators annually with 160 shots. He was past president of the Palm Beach Skeet and Trap Club, a member of the Philadelphia Gun Club, and the Campfire Club of America; as well as the Cody Shooting Complex in Cody, Wyoming. He was also a member of the Bath and Tennis Club, the Everglades Club, and the Sailfish Club all in Palm Beach, Florida and the Brook Club in New York. He was the originator of Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, FL. Mr. Read is survived by his daughter Edith Read Wey, and two grandsons, Thomas Alexander (Lisa) Wey, Jr. and David Read (Claudia) Wey and three great-grandsons, Nicholas, Gianluca, and Gunnar Wey. He also leaves his three stepsons: Inglis Collier, Miles (Parker) Collier, Barron (Tami) Collier II, and his three step grandchildren Laura Collier, Barron Collier V, and Charlotte Collier, along with one sister, Jean Read Knox, and two brothers, Peter Read and Donald Read. He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Isabel Collier Read, and five brothers: Curtis, David, Alexander, Roderick, and Frederick. The Family will receive friends from 11:00a until Noon on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Quattlebaum Funeral Home, 1201 South Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL, 33401. Graveside Services with Military Honors will be held Immediateely following at Hillcrest Memorial Park, West Palm Beach, FL. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Naval Institute Foundation, 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21402-9987.

Never a dull moment indeed.

I am among many, many people who will miss this man dearly.

Requiescat in pace, Uncle Bill.

UncleBillGun

13 thoughts on “Never a dull moment

  1. shannon esposito

    Enjoy your new place, Cornelia! Your grandfather seems like an amazing person, thank you for sharing him with us. I always feel sad when I read about such dynamic people that I will never get to meet. I, have to say, living in Florida, the 12 ft. gator freaked me out a bit ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Karen C

    Cornelia, sorry for your loss but thinking about how lucky you were to have such an amazing and fascinating uncle. Plus, he was totally hot! (sorry, I just had to say that)

    hope you are enjoying your new place,

  3. Reine

    Cornelia, your Uncle Bill was a definite hotty and a hero of the hero generation. I just noticed the contrails from the fly-over. The planes left a peace sign in the sky for him. Brilliant. xoxo

  4. Rae

    Beautiful post, Miss C. Uncle Bill must have been just wonderful – sending good thoughts for your loss.

    And on a more mundane note, your apt. looks fab ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Allison Davis

    So where are the men like Uncle Bill in our generation? Alligator hunting two days before his death, you gotta love that. He was certainly in control to the end for sure.

    You have an amazing family, a huge amalgam of experiences and people, and it is really fun to READ about (sorry about the pun).

    Glad you are settled, I was worried when you ran back up to Vermont and hauling heavy boxes seems to be a weird kind of therapy for you. Although moving and then flying off to Florida before the boxes are unpacked has to be difficult. Hang in there.

  6. Cornelia Read

    Shannon, I don't live in Florida, and the twelve-foot gator freaked the hell out of me, too. Like maybe one of them is going to hitchike up 95 or something… freaky! And thank you for the kind thoughts.

    Reine, I think the contrails turned the cloud into a peace sign. And it's really cool…

    Rae, I adore you, and all is well. And I can't wait to see you…

    Allison, the boxes will get unpacked when the boxes get unpacked. Have another draft to finish this week, so I'll alternate thinking with hauling… and all will be well. Just really, really nice not to feel like a homeless orphan anymore. At least this week.

  7. David Corbett

    I too was worried about the gypsy peregrinations, and am glad to hear you're settled, though sad to hear your uncle passed. I remember the coconut story well, and wonder, like Allison: Where are such men now? Having read some of the better books about our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, I know some of them remain among us. But they are indeed rare, and I can't say I've ever read a tribute as jaw-dropping as this one. You've honored him well, Cornelia. Now get some sleep.

  8. Pari Noskin

    A stunning tribute for someone that should've been in every person's life b/c he's so monumental. Wonderful to read and watch.

    Thank you for sharing the story of your uncle's life — if only a little — with us . . .

    And, I hope this apartment is what you want and that you can settle for a bit and enjoy a tad of calm. Who knows, maybe a splash of dull wouldn't hurt?

  9. PD Martin

    What an amazing life he had. And wow…he nearly made the 100 and was fighting fit, but the sound of it.

    Thanks for sharing such wonderful life experiences with us all…a truly memorable tribute.
    Phillipa

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