‘Oh, Johnny’ by Jim Lehrer

  Call me Johnny. Oh Johnny Oh. That’s what my mom calls me. … You can call me anything. But mainly call me a ballplayer. A center fielder. I’m good, and I’m going to be even better.
  At nearly 18, Johnny Wrigley finds himself on a troop train heading for California. It’s April 1944 and he’s a new Marine about ready to head overseas to fight the Japanese.
  During a brief stop in Wichita, Kan., Johnny gets off the train and quickly is smitten with the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. He spends a few precious minutes with this girl, who calls herself Betsy, and, caught up in the moment, they share a brief intimacy. He might have just met her, but Johnny’s sure he’s in love.
  Johnny makes it to the staging area for the next big battle. He becomes his squad’s flamethrower operator, a position he knows makes him a prime target of the enemy. During his time in Peleliu and later in Okinawa, Johnny sees the messy results of war. It’s only his memories of Betsy that keep him going, he calls it his Betsy Luck, and he writes her letters in his head.
  Two years later, Johnny returns to the United States. He’s determined to find his Betsy and pursue a career in baseball. Things don’t go so smoothly for Johnny, and he sometimes feels he’s in one of those old tales with surprise endings, endings that aren’t always happy.
  He thought of an O. Henry story he’d read in high school. It was about a man strapped to the electric chair about to be executed for murdering his sweetheart in a jealous rage. And the guy, while waiting for the switch to be pulled, had a dream. He was in a country cottage surrounded by beautiful flowers, no death sentence. This happy man took his wife and kid into his arms. This was the real thing. The awful crime stuff was only a dream. But then the prison warden flipped on the switch. It turned out the guy had dreamed the wrong dream.
  “Oh, Johnny” by Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS, is a somewhat folksy coming-of-age tale about first love and the dreams of youth. While Lehrer only briefly dips into the gruesome realities of war, he deeply taps into the scars those images leave.
  “Oh, Johnny” captures the courage and hope of the young, the pain and disappointment of shattered dreams, as well as the endurance gained during the journey to adulthood. It’s a story that most readers will be able to relate.  

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