Originally Published: December 3, 2002 6:10 p.m.
It's funny how sometimes when you hear a particular song, a long-forgotten memory suddenly emerges.
That happened to me yesterday.
The memory took me back to the spring of 1946.
I was sitting on the steps of a friend's house waiting for him to finish his dinner. Off in the distance – maybe four blocks away – I saw a really big guy walking toward me. He had on a sailor's cap and was carrying a dark blue duffel bag over his shoulder.
My immediate fantasy was that he was a real sailor, but then reality set in. I mean, this was Kansas City, Missouri, not San Diego. We had the Missouri River, but I'd never seen, much less heard of, an ocean going ship coming up the Big Mo.
Anyhow, the closer he got the more he looked like a sailor. He wore a white T-shirt, white pants and white shoes. And his sailor cap looked just like one I owned and I knew mine was the real McCoy.
He also had the biggest chest and arms I had ever seen. I wanted to ask him if he was for real, but I was a very shy 14-year-old and incapable of doing more than nodding at him when he passed.
To my surprise, he stopped in front of me, slung his bag off his shoulders and sat down on the steps just below me. "How ya doing?" he asked. I probably mumbled something like "Fine," but I don't recall.
What I do remember, however, is his saying it was good to be home.
And from that point on I was absolutely entranced by what he told me.
He had mustered out a week or so earlier out in California. I don't recollect which port. Then he got on a train that brought him to Kansas City. He had arrived that morning and was on his way home.
He was walking home!
I knew the train station was at least four miles away so I asked him where home was. "It's a couple of blocks from Southwest High School. You know where that is?" he asked. I did. I also knew it was another good three miles.
"My friend's dad has a car. I'll bet he'd drive you there."
"No thanks," he replied. "I walked to that train station when I left for the war and I dreamed about making the walk back home. I wouldn't miss this for anything."
With those words, he lifted the bag back onto his shoulders and said goodbye. I never got his name, but hearing the song yesterday, my romantic inclination is to hope it was Johnny. He sure was "marching home!"
(Ron Barnes is a longtime Prescott resident and a semi-retired educator and businessman.)