« An Open Letter to the Fat Girl I Saw at Hot Yoga in New York City | Main | The Sweetest Mistake »

November 05, 2011

Never a Dull Moment

By Cornelia Read

I don't call this post "Never a Dull Moment" because I expect there to be no dull moments while you're reading it, because who can promise that, but because it is the Read family motto. I think I may have posted the mold of my grandfather's crest ring here before, but hey, here it is again in case you missed it:

Read, W. A crest

Just so you know I'm not kidding about the motto and everything.

I was thinking about it quite a bit this week, since--first of all--it was another kind of riotous week, in terms of basic Cornelia activities, and--second of all--because I just spent three days with a whole bunch of Reads.

This is because after moving in to my new apartment on Tuesday, which entailed getting up at six a.m., driving to Brooklyn, meeting the moving guys at the U-Haul storage place on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, making sure the truck got loaded, driving back in to Manhattan, meeting the moving dudes here, and overseeing or whatever while they hauled all my shit up the four flights of stairs to my new apartment


and then driving back down to 157th street to my pal Muffin's apartment where I'd been living for the last two weeks and packing up all my clothes and crap after the moving guys left (pause here to reflect that any person WITH an actual BRAIN would've done this the night BEFORE, so that the moving guys would've hauled the eight bags and one box of china up the four flights of stairs) and then hauled my eight bags and box of china up four flights of stairs by myself, and then buying some Chinese takeout for me and my kid--who was having a bit of a first-semester-of-college meltdown--I got up at six thirty a.m. the FOLLOWING morning and took the A train to 125th street and then the M60 bus out to LaGuardia and flew to West Palm Beach, because my very dear Uncle Bill Read died last Friday, and my sisters and I were going to his funeral.

Uncle Bill was the eldest of my father's nine siblings. He was 93 years old. Two days before he died, he was hunting alligators on his wife's family's ranch near Immokalee. On Monday, his new wheelchair was arriving. He was not a wheelchair kind of guy, to put it mildly. So, he died peacefully in his sleep Friday morning instead.

Here is a picture of him when he was a little kid:


It was done in pastels. There used to be seven of these, of the oldest seven kids, hanging downstairs in my grandparents' house in Purchase, New York. They're all rather beautiful. Something about pastels makes the eyes very soft and wonderful.

He was named after his father and grandfather, both William Augustus Reads before him. Here's a towel he had in Palm Beach:


I figure it has to be pretty old, since he hasn't been a Junior since Grandaddy died in 1976, and somehow it just looks totally Twenties to me anyway.

Uncle Bill is the guy I got to go shooting with this summer on a ranch in Wyoming, which was pretty fucking awesome. He took me to his gun club, and I totally sucked at trap shooting, but then I did better when we did target shooting with pistols and a crossbow the next day, so he didn't disown me or anything, and I felt slightly less ashamed.

This is a man who took shooting really, really seriously. And fishing. And being an honorable man. He was really nice, which is not often something one can say about people I'm related to, generally.

Also, he was kind of a hottie. Here's a picture of him a while back, so you can see what I mean:


Yeah, right?

Here's another one:


The Read brothers were damn good looking, and he was the best-looking of all of them, if you ask me. And quite possibly the nicest.

That second picture is of him in the Navy in World War II. In which he had some pretty amazing adventures. He was shot down in the Pacific and missing for almost two months, and ended up getting two purple hearts and a Navy Cross. I didn't know before his funeral service that the Navy Cross is only topped by one medal if you're in the sea services (Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard.) That would be the medal of honor.

Here's a picture of some of his decorations. I'm sorry it's sideways:


A Marine Corps general came to the funeral, and spoke, and presented the flag from his coffin to his daughter, my Cousin Edith. The Navy sent a sailor to play taps, and two to stand at either end of his coffin in the cemetery.

Here's a short video of the latter guys (which pans around to one of the two cool cowboys who flew in from the ranch in Wyoming--AWESOME belt buckle):



The Marine Corps sent some guys to shoot off a salute. Which was awesome.


And the Navy also sent a bunch of planes that flew over the cemetery in formation. One of them peeled off and flew straight up trailing a stream of white smoke, then turned back and away. This is called the "Lost Man" formation, to signify the death of someone the Navy liked a lot. They sure liked Uncle Bill, and rightly so 




(added music... and I'm really happy I got the "lachrymosa" aligned with the planes... but check out how the little cloud at center left turns into a peace sign.... Looks good in full-page mode, because then the ad doesn't cover the planes.)


Uncle Bill was shot down in the Pacific and stranded on an island with members of the crew of the plane for two months. With a compound fracture to his thigh from the second day on.

Nonetheless, he managed to drive a samurai-sword wielding Japanese soldier into the ocean by throwing coconuts at his head. The guy presumably died. If you'd like to read more details, check out this article from the U.S. Naval Institute, "Two Coconuts and a Navy Cross." It's pretty amazing:


Here is a closeup shot of his drawing of a Japanese plane getting shot down the next day over the island. The engine broke off and skidded up the beach and killed the man standing next to him, and really, really messed up Uncle Bill's leg:


Here is the telegram that went out after he was rescued:



I asked him what it was like to be a bow-turret machine gunner in a glass ball on a Navy plane in the Pacific during World War II when I was in Wyoming last summer.

He said, "Well, I've always liked hunting, and the ammunition was free, and there was no bag limit."

Here's his drawing of the view from the turret:


He got a lot of Japanese planes:


Here he is sitting in front of my grandparents' house, back in Purchase (probably before the war):



He's sitting in the second row on the left with all his siblings, his parents, and his first wife, after they all got home safe from the war:


My dad was the baby brother--he's sitting on the floor, in the white shirt.

Here's Uncle Bill holding Cousin Edith, his daughter and the eldest of my generation. She's a lovely,  remarkable woman in her own right:


And here is the service flag Grandmama Read had, during the war:


Her husband and six of their sons served. They all came home alive. That's a goddamn miracle, if you ask me.

Here is Uncle Bill at age 92, or thereabouts, with a dead alligator:


Here he is with a twelve-foot alligator he shot last winter:


Here is his obituary from the NY Times (paid section...):



  |   Visit Guest Book

READ--William Augustus, Jr. of Palm Beach, Florida and Cody, Wyoming was the eldest of nine children. He was born on Beacon Street in Boston, Massachusetts, May 16, 1918 to Admiral William A. Read and Edith Fabyan Read. Mr. Read grew up in Purchase, N.Y. and was educated in New England, attending St. Paul's School and the Hun School. He married Kathleen Cushman Spence and they had one daughter, Edith Fabyan Read (Wey). A divorce occurred subsequent to his missing-in-action status during WWII. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy, graduating from the Navy Aerial Gunnery Instructors School in Pensacola, Florida. He was Range Officer at the Navy Border Field Machine Gun Range in San Diego, California and became the Gunnery Officer for the Navy Patrol Squadron 101 in the South West Pacific on the Navy version of the B24 Liberator. He was shot down on his twenty fifth combat mission as Bow Turret Gunner for the Commanding Officer of the Squadron. He and some of the surviving crew were able to swim to an island in the Sulu Sea near Palawan Island within Japanese territory, where they lived on coconuts. He was wounded again in a second crash in which a Japanese plane was shot down and landed on some of the surviving members of the crew, killing two of them and further wounding the others. He was missing-in-action for two months. They were rescued by the submarine, Gunnell. His decorations include two Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, and the Navy Cross. Lieutenant William Read had flown 25 combat missions without flight pay. After the war, he became a partner with Phelps, Fenn and Company, a municipal bonds firm in New York City. In 1959, he married Isabel Uppercu Collier and they subsequently moved to Florida. They had been married just short of 50 years at her death in 2008. His skill in shooting has led to his qualification for the Navy Pistol and Rifle Expert. Mr. Read won the gold medal in the Olympics in the International Skeet Veterans Class. He is also in the Trap Shooting Hall of Fame, has won and successfully defended the Pennsylvania 50 Bird Challenge Cup, and defended it for a year. He has achieved his 100,000 target American Trap Shooting Association Pin. After his retirement, he became a licensed alligator trapper in South West Florida, near the family ranch in Immokalee, priding himself on filling his quota of 160 alligators annually with 160 shots. He was past president of the Palm Beach Skeet and Trap Club, a member of the Philadelphia Gun Club, and the Campfire Club of America; as well as the Cody Shooting Complex in Cody, Wyoming. He was also a member of the Bath and Tennis Club, the Everglades Club, and the Sailfish Club all in Palm Beach, Florida and the Brook Club in New York. He was the originator of Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, FL. Mr. Read is survived by his daughter Edith Read Wey, and two grandsons, Thomas Alexander (Lisa) Wey, Jr. and David Read (Claudia) Wey and three great-grandsons, Nicholas, Gianluca, and Gunnar Wey. He also leaves his three stepsons: Inglis Collier, Miles (Parker) Collier, Barron (Tami) Collier II, and his three step grandchildren Laura Collier, Barron Collier V, and Charlotte Collier, along with one sister, Jean Read Knox, and two brothers, Peter Read and Donald Read. He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Isabel Collier Read, and five brothers: Curtis, David, Alexander, Roderick, and Frederick. The Family will receive friends from 11:00a until Noon on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Quattlebaum Funeral Home, 1201 South Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL, 33401. Graveside Services with Military Honors will be held Immediateely following at Hillcrest Memorial Park, West Palm Beach, FL. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Naval Institute Foundation, 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21402-9987.

Never a dull moment indeed.

I am among many, many people who will miss this man dearly.

Requiescat in pace, Uncle Bill.



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Never a Dull Moment:


Coconuts! I know that's a stupid detail to fixate on, but COCONUTS!

You're so right to be proud of him, Cornelia.

Cornelia, you will miss your uncle as will so many. He was handsome and brave and so very skilled. And I love what you said about his wheelchair. I didn't know him, but that suits his image. A gold medal winner, too? Total man. xoxo

Time is catching a very interesting generation, like your uncle Bill. I have a friend, a good Jewish boy turned lawyer who married a not Jewish girl who now keeps a semi-Kosher home. His mother was a Holocaust survivor. She knew her father was in the Army in WWII. It was not until he was close to death that the family learned what dad did in the war. He was one of the troops that liberated Dachau.

We are also losing the last generation of African Americans to live in segregated America. I attended a funeral of a man who could only serve his country as a cook. Had few choices on where he could work (he worked for the post office for 30 years) and fewer choices on where to live (His family was one of the first African Americans to live in University City).

Sorry for your loss, Everybody could use an uncle Bill.

We only get to know people like Uncle Bill if we're related to them, or are very, very lucky, and we pay attention. It's so easy to see an elderly person and just dismiss him or her with the label "old", and all that comes with it. But I think everyone has a story to tell. Maybe not a story so fascinating as this one, but you never know.

My father-in-law, a pioneer in nature filmmaking (he did work for Walt Disney) who also died at age 93 a few years ago, had a similarly interesting story, except, instead of shooting the gun in the plane, he shot film for the Army Air Corps. Karl was also in one of those bubbles, but he had no way of defending himself, even though he, too, was a crack shot. My brother-in-law, Steve's oldest brother Pete, wrote a book about the combat cameramen of WWII, a job that was brand-new at the time, which included his dad's part of the story. (The name of the book is Armed with Cameras, by Peter Maslowski, for all you history buffs.) My favorite part of Karl's WWII experience was when he ingratiated himself to some baron or count or something, and the guy took them boar hunting, right smack in the middle of the war. That was so typical of him!

Alan, you make a very good point about the African Americans. There was a marked difference in the black culture of the 20's and that of today, in general.

Damn, Cornelia. I am now in love with your Uncle Bill. Honestly, you made him come alive again.

So now my heart goes out to your whole family.

Congratulations on surviving the move! I know that it pales compared to your uncle's story, but it is still a major change, and no one I know has ever managed to avoid all the "oh I should have done it this way" variables . . . and then to travel immediately after? I am impressed! After my last move, I could barely walk.
Your memories of your uncle make me wish I had gathered more family stories from grandparents and parents, and glad to have the ones I do have . . . and very hopeful for more if/when "the circle (will) be unbroken."

Nancy, coconuts indeed. While he was on a crutch he'd made, with bones sticking out of his leg. Just kills me.

Reine, yeah. Total. And shy, and nice, and a wonderful storyteller... I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with him. I must have met him when I was little, but I only got a week to hang out with him, last summer. I now have his last nice letter up on the door of my icebox. Knocks me out.

Alan, it's a tricky story for me in some ways--certainly, he led a life of privilege, part of the one percent in a big way. He wouldn't even have gotten to do combat service at all with the Navy without connections, because his vision wasn't very good. Pulling strings is what allowed him to serve in the first place, but it just seems so rare to me to have someone who pulls strings not for advantage, but to put oneself in mortal danger because it was the honorable thing to do. Hard to imagine most young men doing that, these days... Or anyone.

Oh, Karen, your father-in-law sounds hugely menschy and wonderful. How great!!! And BOY do I want to read Armed with Cameras, how cool!!!!

Harley, I have a crush on him myself. Which is kind of weird, to have a crush on one's own dead uncle. But hey... and thank you!

What a grand and glorious tribute! And yeah, he was definitely quite the looker!

Congratulations on the successful move, too. You're getting to be an expert, aren't you?

And I've gotta grin a little. If there's a "Frank Collier" somewhere in your family who'd be (or would have been) in his 90's or so, we might be related in a distant sort of way. I'd kinda like that!

Wonderful post!

People were so brave...he's such a heartbreaker, in so many waas. Inspirational. His attitude and love and spirit and confidence, you know? Thank you..

(Why did people look so different from the way we do now?)

Hank, I wonder about that, too! There are some who still resemble folks from that era, but they're so rare.

Which reminds me: Cornelia, Uncle Bill was a flat-out hunk. So happy you got to know him, even at that late hour of his life. But vision problems, and he still got 160 gators with only 160 shots? Wow.

Storyteller Mary, I know what you mean about the stories. I wish I'd known as a kid when more members of the previous generations were still alive all the questions I so want to ask them now... I got to spend time with Uncle Bill last summer because my stepmother said, "You love all the family stories, and Uncle Bill knows so many of them as the eldest of that generation, and I want you to be able to talk with him." Given his age, we both knew that was a limited-time offer, and her generosity allowed me to have that wonderful week with him. I guess this is why you and I (and everyone who's part of this community we have on TLC) are so drawn to narrative? And, yes indeed, I feel as though I have a bit of whiplash, having gone from moving mode to travel-and-memorial mode and back in such a short time, but I think I'll get to stay in this place for a while and that feels truly amazing, right now. Phew!!!

Fran, it would make us related by marriage, but STILL, that is awesome! I will just presume it's the same Colliers, Because it just feels right.

Hank, exactly, and thank you! And I think maybe it had something to do with Brylcreem? Or Brilliantine... and just, some je ne sais quoi generally.

My father's eldest brother served as a truck driver under Patton in North Africa in WWII. No heroics, no close calls, nothing special. He never married or had children of his own (that we know of anyway, lol). He would tell stories at family gatherings. Eveyone would listen politely for a while then go on to other topics. None of his nieces or nephews were interested in his stories about WWII. I so regret that now. Would love to hear stories about my grandparents and their childhoods.


Karen, he told me last summer that he got 183 gators last winter, with 183 shots. But he was only licensed to get 160. So, ahem... I guess he can't really get in trouble now, though.

Pam, exactly. Now I want to know EVERYTHING. Not the heroics, necessarily. Just what it was all LIKE, you know? Having horses do everything in New York and then watching cars start to replace them on the streets, or what people were wearing, or just *any* kind of detail. Driving a truck in North Africa under Patton? WOW!

I rarely have anything good to say about my father, but this may be a day for it. He was 16 when he signed up in WWII. A Navy recruiter and the headmaster showed up in boring Latin class one day and announced that any senior boys who volunteered right then and there would be awarded their diploma in June -- not that they would ever see it! My father always believed it was no accident they spoke in Latin class. "They went to Greek next,, and everyone there stood up to volunteer.

The weird part is we weren't in the war yet. They were recruited into the Merchant Marine. Most of these boys died in the North Atlantic. My father's ship was torpedoed twice, and yet all men survived to shoot at German airplanes -- with the ONE machine gun mounted on board their damaged ship half sunk in the Russian harbor. The government didn't even recognize their service and award them any official recognition and benefits until after most, including my father, had died.

I keep in touch with the few survivors of this action who served together with the Russian and English Merchant Navy. A couple of years ago the Russians honored them all with a ceremony in Murmansk. The UK honor them in Scotland. Our country has forgotten them. The fun part is I have more than a few Russian siblings.

I'm fascinated everytime you write about your family. What a family, what an uncle!

Glad you are situated in your new apartment; I'm sorry about your uncle. He was a hottie, but also an extremely talented and brave man. What a nice man as well. And you always make your posts a visual feast. Thank you for this.

Lisa, thank you.

lil, it's lovely to be home, but it was an honor to be at that funeral. Thank you so much...

Now you make me want to get out all the photo albums and re-breathe life into my grandparents.
Such a wonderful feast of memories.
What a man. And nice to boot.
Congrates on your new abode!

What an incredibly cool family. No wonder you're a novelist -- each family member could be a full-length book.

Oh, xena, yea! And thank you!

Elaine, you are a total sweetie... and I wish I could do them all justice.

Cornelia, enjoy being moved! Whew.

Your uncle was amazing and what a full life he had.

My parents both served in peace time, my mom's claim to fame . . . being engaged to 3 guys as once. The base they were on had 3,000 men and 30 women. No women went dateless on Saturday night. Just glad she met and married my dad, he was a hottie as well and a sweetheart. But he never shot a gater.

gaylin, I LOVE that about your parents. And I've never shot a gater either. Don't think I could really handle it. Would've probably puked over the side of the airboat in sheer terror...

My Uncle Bob was one of the first Marine pilots -- makes me wonder if their paths ever crossed. What an amazing family you have....and what an amazing man he was. I'm so glad you got that time with him in Wyoming this summer. That will stay with you forever. Love you. Miss you. My heart is with you.

Ah sweet Ann... You're wonderful!!

Whoa. Hottie indeed.

Cornelia, you have the most fascinating family. I lost my uncle - also Uncle Bill - a couple of weeks ago, age 92. He also served in WWII - Army, not Navy (though my dad was Navy), and was in the 1st Infantry - The Big Red One. He, too, had a frame full of medals, including several purple hearts, and the veterans funeral (no planes), as did Dad 6 years ago. (Is ANYTHING more moving than TAPS, and the flag folding?) He and my Dad grew up in an orphanage during the depression, and joined up as soon as they could. Which happened to be the early 40s. Uncle Bill went back and served in Korea too.

I, too, wish I had a better handle on their stories. My Dad never talked about the war much - he was on a carrier escort - and if Uncle Bill did, we didn't really listen. Damn it. Uncle Bill married, but never had kids. My parents, on the other hand, had 9. But Uncle Bill's greatest legacy is how much he did for the community. He worked tirelessly raising money for charities, schools, churches, various fundraisers, and even bought and donated land to the town to use for kids sports fields.

Thanks for sharing your Uncle Bill with us. Visual feast is a perfect description of your blogs.

Greatest generation indeed.

Oh - and best of luck in your new home! I hope you're there and happy for a long time! :)

Cornelia, I think don't think my uncle ever saw Patton except from a great distance, lol.

Great post, Cornelia. I think I love that man. He sounds like a real spitfire. His story makes me think of my father, who served in the Pacific in the Army infantry in WWII, and my father-in-law, now 95, who served in the Army Air Corps in Britain in WWII. My dad told me a lot of war stories, and I had the honor of writing a special war story of my father-in-law's.

One day my mom made chicken cacciatore, and my dad wouldn't eat it. He said it looked "like dead Japs." Another day he couldn't deal with some gravy because it looked "like crocodile vomit." He stepped on a dead croc in the Philippines or something and some nastiness came out of its mouth. I don't think he would have been an alligator hunter after the war.

Cornelia, I enjoyed this post tremendously. I was reminded of my dad's WW II service wth the Navy in the Pacific. He didn't want to talk about his experiences. He would instead talk about the friends that he made. When I was in high school, I asked him some questions about his war experiences when I was studying World History. He started to answer, then burst into tears and left the room.

I found out only a couple of years ago that when he and my mom were first married - they got married a few months after he was discharged right after the war ended - he would often wake up in the middle of the night screaming and trembling.

He died at the relatively young age of 55. He would have turned 88 a few months ago.

Thanks for reminding me of one of my OWN heroes.

A breathtakingly beautiful tribute, Cornelia!
Thank you so much.
So much richness in your family.

Pam, from what I've heard about Patton, that sounds like a GOOD thing!

Amy, wow.... I think I'm going to avoid chicken cacciatore myself from now on. Uncle Bill told me he saw a Komodo dragon on the island at one point, and was trying to figure out what to kill it with so they could stop eating coconuts, but then he realized it was crawling into the downed plane on the beach "and eating the dead japs," so they kept on with the coconuts instead.

Deb, wow... and I love that your father talked about the friends he made. What a wonderful way to deal with war memories--that's awesome. I love that he's your hero, he sounds like a very remarkable man.

marie, thank you!

I'm sure your uncle was a good man and, he led a wonderful life. My condolences to you and your family.

what is it about the men of that era? wow...sexy! I have a crush on my grandpa who was a sexy navy sailor complete with bell bottom pants :)

I regret that he passed before I was old enough to care about his stories of the war and his adventures with his "gang". I treasure the few mementoes I have like his log book of his travels and how many times he crossed the equator.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site