I first met Phil in the Band of Brothers when they first stated meeting at Jake's. I knew that he was a part of the original group but he was very quiet so I did not get to know him well at first. His native American type looks and the knowledge that he was in Iwo Jima made me think as many others did that he was a wind talker there. I later learned that was not the case.
Phil's engaging smile and different wit soon drew me to him as a special man. When I would ask him how he was, he would return, "Pretty good for an old fart". I also learned that this quiet man did not mean that he was not without opinion. There were some things that he had quite an opinion about. Such as loud mouths or pushy people. He had no time for them. When angered, his words could get quite colorful also.
But, there was something about him that drew you to him. That something was his heart. He is just a great guy and fun to be around.
Another member of the Brothers, Ray, became a very close friend and would bring Phil to the meetings and out to lunch whenever he wanted to. A while after the brothers started meeting at our place, he was a regular fixture at lunch time. Phil and Ray would stop in and other vets would often join them including myself.
And Ray loved the girls. Instead of shaking their hands, he would often bring the hand up to his lips and kiss it. For obvious reasons, the girls have a special place in their hearts for him. Once when he was not feeling well, I stuck my hand out to shake his. He inadvertently raised to his mouth and I was not sure what to do. I knew he wasn't feeling well so I figured I would just take whatever and roll with the punches. He realized what he was doing at the last minute and improvised by biting my hand. I playfully punched him in the arm and all was well.
Last year, I took Phil to the Golden Gloves Boxing matches with me. The matches were going on late into the evening and I worried that I was keeping my friend up to late. The last match started and this big bruiser walked just under where Phil was sitting. Phil reached down and tapped him on the head. When the young heavyweight looked up, Phil gave him a smile and a big thumbs up. I then knew that Phil was enjoying himself.
On the ride back to his house, Phil told me. "I boxed golden gloves once. I only had one fight. The guy punched me in the nose and it hurt! That was the end of my career.".
He was the first Brother that my father met. On the Fourth of July, as my mom was using my computer, Dad sat out in the parking lot with the others listening to the band. Phil called him an old fart and Dad has never forgotten that. I think Phil is still his favorite when he comes to one of the meetings.
A couple of months back, Phil told me that he was having problems swallowing. We began giving him broth and milkshakes and waited to hear what the doctor had to say. The results were not pleasant to hear. Phil had cancer of his esophagus. The cancer was stage 4.
We visited Phil in the hospital when they ran the tests and I found that he had two loves. Books and Scotch. Soon friends were bringing him both and he had a library along with a wet bar along the window. The doctor asked him if their was anything that Phil needed and Phil told him, "I could use some Scotch.". The doc laughed and said, "Maybe I will come up and have one with you later.".
Since then, Phil has been struggling. He still came in with Ray whenever he could. One Band of Brothers day, Phil brought him in late and when he was wheeled in the door, 100 old vets jumped to their feet in a standing ovation. His tears showed me how touched he was by that.
Last Sunday, when we had the spaghetti feed for the Honor Flight, Ray wheeled Phil in. Around halfway through the evening, Phil fell asleep and slept in his wheel chair as the festivities went on around him.
On Tuesday, they put him in Hospice for evaluation. Zin, Judy, Art, and I visited him yesterday and Judy and I took him up a milkshake today. While I do think there are people coming up to see him, he seems to not remember much of them. His hearing is going fast and even with his aids in, he does not hear much of what you say.
Our hearts went out to him as we sat there and tried to converse with him knowing that he heard very little of what we had to say. He just smiled and shook his head. He had just been wheeled in after his shower and we soon realized that his wit was still alive and well, when he said, "That was the best shower I have had in a long time.". Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he went on, "She washed every little part of me.". He looked up and me and gave me that wink and we all laughed.
He asked me if I had received his Hawaiian shirts. I said no and he said, "I want you to have them, Lyle, I can't use them anymore. I don't know how much longer I am going to be around.". The tears welled up in his eyes and I quickly worked to change the subject and tried diverting his attention to other things such as the bird that was fattening himself outside Phil's window in the feeders there.
While it is hard to converse with him now due to his hearing problems, it is equally important that we don't stop seeing him because it is uncomfortable. This gentle man who as a youth went through some of the bloodiest and hardest battles of the war now needs his friends more than ever.
Phil is another one of the incredible and colorful people that I have been so blessed to meet in the journey of my own life. So, if you happen to be stopping by Hospice House in the next few days, stick your head in room 5 and say, "Hello" to a very special old fart, my friend Phil.