This is an incredible true story about Johnnie Wallen, a veteran from the Pacific Theater of World War II.
Patricia Polacco is an incredible writer. One night, while on book tour, she passed a hotel conference room where a group of World War II veterans was holding a reunion. After listening to their stories, she began to wonder about all the soldiers who have never had their story told. When she got home to Michigan, she asked local veterans to tell her their stories. Johnnie Wallen's story is told in his Kentucky backwoods words and is incredibly, incredibly moving. One of my good friends told me I had to read this book, so I casually picked it up one day when I dropped my class off for library. I read it in the back of the room and by the end, the tears started pouring out. I felt terribly awkward, crying with 21 first graders under my care. Fortunately the librarian was being immensely interesting and they didn't notice me until I regained my composure.
Read this book! There is no way I can do it justice without wholesale copying the whole thing on here. Which is frowned upon. So get your own copy!
Tucky Jo grew up in Kentucky, a sharp shootin' back woods boy. He caught the eye of the wonderful Freda. He knew she was something special.
When WWII broke out, Tucky Jo was to young to enlist. After some persuasion, his parents finally "lied me older."
He set off for the South Pacific in the biggest ship he had ever seen.
War was no joke. Fighting for 219 days straight, through New Guinea and finally to the Philippines.
By the time the troops arrived on Luzon, they were exhausted. The jungle was terrible. Hot, steamy, stinkin', and thick...and the bugs...I never seen so many bugs.
Now I knew there ain't no glory in war.
One day while out clearing brush for an airstrip, he saw a native village.
Hearing a noise he whipped around with his rifle ready to confront... a little girl. Somehow, lookin' at that innocent tiny girl gave me a peace that I hadn't felt in a long time.
She showed him what plants would help soothe the bug bites and in the grand tradition of American soldiers, gave her a chocolate bar. They became fast friends.
They couldn't speak each other's language, so when they introduced themselves, Kentucky Jon became Tucky Jo and since she didn't offer a name, Tucky Jo called her Little heart for the heart shaped birthmark on her arm.
He brought back the leaves of the soothing plant to his company, but didn't tell them about Little Heart. Just in case he was told not to talk to her again. His hands fell to whittling a jiggy doll for Little Heart. He couldn't wait to show it to her.
Little Heart was delighted! Then she smiled. A smile so sweet and full of life that both of us clean forgot that a war was raging all over this island.
After that, they met up almost every day.
Somehow, lookin' at her made all of the combat make some sort of sense. I felt like I was doin' all this warrin' for her... for kids just like her."
Finally Tucky Jo met the other villagers. One of them could speak English. Little Heart was his grand daughter. He told Tucky Jo that Little Heart hadn't spoken since she saw her mother killed by soldiers. He told of the enemy soldiers that had come through earlier and taken all their young men, food, and fishing supplies. So even though there was a river close by, the villagers were starving.
Fishing, Tucky Jo style. He snuck some dynamite out of the ordnance shed.
Fish rained down on the starving villagers. From that day on they all called me "that boy who made it rain fish!"
The whole focus of my life came to providin' for them people...that is, when I wasn't out on recons and fightin' the war.
When the enemy headed their direction, the company was ordered to firebomb the jungle. Tucky Jo begged a few minutes to evacuate the village before bombing. His sergeant gave his permission. The soldiers threw the villagers into transport trucks to get them to safety as quickly as they could.
Little Heart was in my arms and huggin' me as hard as she could.
That's the last time I ever saw that little girl.
After the war, Tucky Jo returned home to marry Freda. They moved to Michigan and had eight children, twenty four grandchildren, twenty eight great-grandkids, and one great-great-grandchild.
Tucky Jo was starting to get old and needing a lot of care. He spent a lot of time at the Veterans hospital, trying to get in to see specialists. The list was long and it seems a bit hopeless. One day a new nurse appeared with new medicine. She said she had arranged specialists for his care. Freda asked how much it would all cost.
"It is all being taken care of," the nurse said as she held Freda's hands.
"And how did you ever get Johnnie in to see the specialists? We have been on a waiting list for what seems like years....We finally gave up hope," Freda said.
Why you doin' this for me, girly?" I asked?
Because I'm taking care of you now...Just like you did so many years ago for me..." Then she leaned in to my face. "Tucky Jo will have only the best! Only the best for you...my Tucky Jo!" the nurse whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks.
She rolled up her sleeve and showed a birthmark on her arm. It was shaped like a perfect little heart.
I am crying again just skimming it over. AHHHH! It is so awesome! Little Heart's real name is Zabella. Because of all Tucky Jo had done for her, she moved to America after the war, got married and became a nurse. She had three sons, two are doctors, and one is an engineer.
She felt that none of this would have been possible had she not been saved and fed and cared for by her Tucky Jo.
For the rest of Johnnie Wallen's life, Nurse Zabella made sure he had all he needed and more.
This is such an awesome story.