Googling away time on the internet is mostly a waste of my time.
I call it the new smoking. It’s a prop to look purposeful when you have no purpose at all.
But every now and then you take a drag off the net and — wham! — there is a buzz that jolts you back from the abyss of lassitude. That’s what happened to me while researching the history of Veterans Day.
One internet search led to another until I found myself reading an obituary about an American veteran from Minnesota by the name of Earl Procai, killed in the war against Japan on the last day of March 1945. It stopped me in my tracks, mostly because Procai was only 19 years old.
Procai was a Navy bugler, second class, killed when a Japanese kamikaze attack struck his battleship in the deep water of the South Pacific during the final spring of World War II.
Thinking about this long-dead seaman became an adventure of a sort, an adventure that took me back to the final months of World War II, to a leafy street in Minneapolis and finally to some familiarity with a young man who would die a decade before I was born.
Mindless internet perusing made me quite mindful of another man’s life. And death.
Procai was assigned to the USS Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser that some months later would find itself recorded in the history of World War II for a reason even more poignant than the death of young Procai when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine and hundreds lost their lives.
Such tragedy visited upon youth gives pause.
Pause that began for me this past summer while visiting family in Procai’s hometown of Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a city of neighborhoods. And one of those neighborhoods is where Earl Procai was raised.
Emotional gravity drew me to it.
Using devices that would have amazed the young Procai in 1945, I popped the obituary address listed for him into a search map and shortly thereafter found myself standing both in the present and the past.
Procai’s house narrowly escaped demolition when a 1960s freeway was built along the rear property line. The house still stands, though, and according to public records it remains virtually unchanged since Procai’s time.
The sight and site of that house was a bit of a time portal, taking me back to just before World War II. I imagined Procai as a kid coming home from school, his mother at the front door to greet him. It is a nice house that lends itself to imagination. Once the street was canopied with American elm trees before the killer blight. Once it was a quiet street, with the roar of the now adjacent freeway decades into the future. Once Procai thought nothing could disturb his American idyll.
But something did.
Fate saw to it that World War II would last longer than Procai’s youth. Into the battle he went, just days after his high school graduation as his obituary both proudly and tenderly informs us.
Strange and slightly wondrous it was to stand on the sidewalk in front of this sailor’s house. History came alive. Procai came alive. This story came alive. All through a random click of the internet.
Navy bugler and second class seaman Earl Procai existed.
Let the world know.