Uncle Merrill's Victory Bike
My Uncle Merrill, (we pronounced his name "Merle"), was only 7 years older than me. In 1944, during World War II, I was 11 and he was 18 when he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. Many of you reading this were born long after the "big" war years. Those of us too young to participate now know how lucky we were, but our turn was soon coming.
Uncle Merrill was what I call a "nudgy" guy-he was never satisfied with what he had and was always looking for something new. He liked bikes and seemed to have a different one every time I saw him. I was envious because my parents considered me too young to have a bike. In those days bikes seemed to come in only one size; BIG. My brother had a new Hawthorne which was heavy as sin. It was all I could do to push it around and one-foot it along the bank in front of our house. One day Uncle Merrill rode over to our house on what he called his "Victory Bike". It was the first "skinny tired" bike I had seen and the only one in my home town until many years later. I was not impressed. It had no tank, no luggage rack, and the handle bars weren't even chrome plated. It did have nice red paint though. Within a month of acquiring the Victory Bike, Uncle Merrill received his draft notice that began with the morbidly cheerful; "Welcome, you have been invited by your friends and neighbors etc". Nine years later, during the Korean War I received my own welcome into the U.S. Army.
The day before Uncle Merrill was to report for transport to an induction center, he gave me the "skinny tired bike on loan. Suddenly it looked pretty good. His reasoning was that if he left it at home with my grandparents, who moved frequently, it might not be there when he returned, and even if I wore it out, something is better than nothing. I was in hog heaven. That bike had at least a twenty three inch frame whose top bar came to my waist and the tires were 28 inch. As much as I try though I cannot recall that it had any identification on it.
I rode that bike for the next 4 years, but the point of this story is what happened one month after VJ day, (Victory in Japan). One morning I had to run an errand for my mother and when I wheeled the bike out discovered that both tires were flat. I pumped them up thinking that they would leak down again but to my surprise, they didn't. I didn't understand it but I was 13, who thinks about things too deeply at that age. The next day my grandparents received word from the U.S. Navy that Uncle Merrill had died in a freak accident at sea the previous day. A group of seamen were being transferred by bosun's chairs on a long cable to another ship to watch a movie. While in transit the chair carrying Uncle merrill flipped over throwing him into the rough sea where he drowned before help could reach him.
Could there have been a connection between the unexplained flat tires and Uncle Merrill's death on the same day, or did someone let the air out of the tires? That question has bothered me since that day in 1945 and no one ever mentioned pulling a trick on me. I lost interest in bikes when I bought an old Model A Ford in 1948. The Victory Bike lay neglected behind a shed on our farm and one day it wasn't there anymore.
To see a picture of Uncle Merrill's Victory Bike CLICK HERE.
This story though fictional is based on actual events.
Fred Hajny, 1998
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