Sunday, 24 May 2015
A Soldier and a Star
Here’s the heart-tugging text from a box ad for War Bonds. It appeared in the New York Sun of September 9, 1943 and the space was provided courtesy of I.J. Fox, “America’s Largest Furrier.” It shows the generosity of Jack Benny.
“HE DID IT THE HARD WAY”
BY ED SULLIVAN
Famous Daily News Columnist
The game we played has ended, and the boy in the last bed of a ward at Halloran Hospital has died . . . We met one night I’d taken a show out there, and after the main show, we’d gone through the wards to let the badly hurt kids meet Jack Benny, the Andrews Sisters, Pat Henning, Jimmy Durante, Block and Sully, Avis Andrews.
We were just about to leave this particular ward when over in a corner bed, something stirred, and the something was a boy . . . So I went over and talked to this boy, and he looked at me uncertainly through hot and fevered eyes . . . "Would you like to meet Jack Benny?" I asked him, and then, he grinned and whispered: “Stop your kidding” . . . So I got Jack from another ward, and so strong is training that the badly-wounded boy asked me if his hair was combed right . . . “Want to look my best when Mister Benny comes in,” he explained weakly . . . Benny was as nice as he could be to him, and the boy's appreciation glistened in his eyes . . . His name on the chart at the foot of the bed was Arthur Ford, from a little town in Georgia.
“We’re going to be back here with another show in a couple of weeks,” I told him . . . “Maybe I won't be here,” the boy whispered. “I don't feel too hot, Mister. They got me right through the stomach” . . . So I pretended to bawl him out, and told him he’d BETTER be there when we came back to the ward in two weeks, figuring that if he had some definite date to look forward to, it would keep him holding on to life . . . We shook hands on it.
All that night, I couldn’t get the boy’s face out of my mind, so early the next morning, I called Father Bellamy, out at Halloran . . . He checked with the doctors . . . “Ford had the best night’s sleep he’d ever had. Meeting Jack Benny was the finest medicine the doctor could prescribe” . . . The rest of that day, I walked on air.
Each succeeding telephone call confirmed the optimistic news . . . Ford was holding his own, Ford was a little better . . . Each day, the chaplain and the Red Cross women made it a point to stop at his bedside over in the corner and remind him of his date with us . . . And with a definite date to focus on, and to live for, Ford had a calendar which helped him to keep on living, or so I prefer to think . . . And then, after keeping that date, the worn boy died one night, very peacefully.
Whether or not his folks, down in Milledgeville, Ga., ever learned from him that in the last month he had played a game that brought to his bedside people who were rooting for him. I don’t know . . . But they should know of it, because it will bring some measure of consolation to them to learn that this was so . . . In his last struggle, they should know that their son, or brother, was not a small town Georgia boy alone in a big city of Yankees . . . He was with people who regarded him as one of their own, and when he died, in the North, of wounds received while landing on a faraway shore, we regretted it bitterly, while acknowledging that the wearied and wounded boy finally had found the one opiate to ease his pain.
Because of Arthur Ford, who died at Halloran Hospital, I’m going to buy as many War Bonds as I can in this Third War Loan Drive . . . As he whispered to us that night in the dimmed ward, the Germans got him right through the stomach . . . I figured that if young Ford could sacrifice his life for me, and for you, the least we can do is to buy bonds, which pay interest . . . He and other boys like him took the worst of it, to give us the best of it . . . He did it the hard way—buying bonds is the easy way.
Sullivan was employed by a rival New York City newspaper, hence the Sun only dubbed him “famous daily news columnist.”
Benny not only did broadcasts from military compounds in the U.S. during the war, he also toured overseas. He toured Korea during the war there. Daughter Joan Benny relates in her book that she discovered her father kept detailed notes about many of the soldiers he met and took the trouble to contact their families once he returned to America.
That might have done as much to help the war effort than any bond could.