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Jar of Coins

Frank Szabo was big and ugly, “a huge monstrosity of a man,” as my grandfather described him.  They first met during World War II.  Frank was a little older than the others in the outfit and seen as serious and mature.  My grandfather soon discovered he was also kind and humble, and Frank’s gentleness and consideration impressed him in one particular incident involving a vulnerable young woman at a party:

After this incident, my grandfather and Frank became good friends.  And then, in early 1943, their outfit was taking a troop train from Cherry Point, North Carolina, to San Diego.  The train was scheduled to pass through New Bern, where Frank’s wife was to be waiting.

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My grandfather, standing, second from the left. Frank, standing, second from the right.  At some point, my grandfather wrote “D” on his chest to indicate “deceased.”

My grandfather recalls Frank’s wife being uncommonly beautiful and, in that regard at least, mismatched to Frank, who worshipped her.

Windows on the train were open and passengers could reach out to people waiting along the train tracks as the train slowed to proceed through town. My grandfather was next to Frank on the train’s cots.  Frank had been saving coins in a glass jar, probably a couple hundred dollars, and meant to hand the jar out the window to his wife.

As the train passed, Frank spotted his wife and leaned out with the jar, but she either was too distracted that she didn’t see or purposely ignored him.

Coins and broken glass went all over the street.  People in the crowd waving to their loved ones on the train scrambled to pick up the money.  She didn’t even look up, my grandfather recalls:

While in the Pacific during the war, Frank’s wife wrote him a Dear John letter and, heartbroken, Frank became gloomy, sullen, and withdrawn.  He never seemed to recover from the loss during the remainder of the time my grandfather knew him in the Marines.  Here’s my grandfather describing the change in Frank after his wife left him:

After the war, Frank and my grandfather came home.  Frank was SS, so was discharged as soon as he reached San Francisco, while my grandfather had orders to North Carolina.   My grandfather never saw him again.

Some years later, he was thinking of Frank and wrote him a letter, and they began corresponding.  Frank had recovered from his heartbreak, remarried, and seemed happy.  Frank and my grandfather stayed in touch until Elizabeth, his second wife, sent him news of Frank’s passing in the 1970s or ‘80s:

Photo: On the base at Cherry Point, my grandfather’s outfit marching to the troop train to go to San Diego
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