Chapter 3 – Research – Modern Day
That first Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend, Jason began pumping the internet for information regarding his grandfather. The only facts he had available to him came from the quick phone call his grandfather made to his grandmother. His grandfather had told his grandmother that he had been placed on special assignment, he was going to be sailing upriver from the Knoxville area to St. Louis in a cabin cruiser. Jason’s grandmother also recalled that he had been flown from Newfoundland to Knoxville in a private plane and at the time of the phone call he was in a posh hotel in Knoxville. One other thing he had told her was that he would be incommunicado for a few weeks, but after that call, she had never heard from him again.
Even though there was so little to go on, Jason got to work and by March of the following year, he had built an itinerary of a boat trip that was made by two civilians along various rivers in the spring of 1944. Sure, he had substantial gaps in his timeline and much of what he had compiled was based on assumptions. But between various military records and de-classified documents he felt he had enough information to categorically say that his grandfather, with a ship’s mate, named David Lawless, sailed as far as twenty miles short of St. Louis. But at some point, along the Mississippi, all trace of the two sailors disappeared. So, what happened to the boat, his grandfather and his companion? Furthermore, what was the point of the trip? It wasn’t a vacation otherwise he would have informed his grandmother.
Jason was stymied, but not deterred, he spent a further few more weeks trying to determine what could have possibly happened to his grandfather on that short expanse of water along one of the longest rivers in the world. Jason researched charts, homing in on marinas that existed along the river at that time, especially those that had gas and marine toilet pump-out services. He didn’t come across any marinas that had records that went back that far but amazingly, what he did uncover was an invaluable eye-witness. A chance email had been answered by one of the office workers at a marina and informed Jason that an old-timer, Chuck, who had only been seven years old at the time of Jason’s grandfather’s trip, still hung around the river. Telephone numbers were exchanged, and a conference call was arranged. Jason was expecting to hear a thick southern drawl but was surprised to hear a very articulate voice on the other end of the line. During the call, Chuck told Jason that he clearly recalled two men pulling into his family’s marina late one afternoon all those years ago. Chuck remembered them for two reasons, he just loved the gleaming new boat that they moored alongside. The beautifully polished wood paneling and the gleaming fittings all added up to the finest boat he had ever seen, and he desperately wanted to go on board to take a look-see down below. For some reason, the men were adamant against allowing anyone coming on board and Chuck’s disappointment was so tangible he remembered it to this day. The other reason why the event stuck in his mind so vividly was that a storm was brewing, and the two men were debating whether they should risk cruising the twenty miles to St. Louis or take overnight shelter at the marina. The marina offered approximately 300 feet of dockage directly on the Mississippi and they could have easily waited out the night to let the storm blow over. But despite Chuck’s father advising them to remain at the marina, the two men decided to push on. Chuck felt that the two men thought his father was just trying to extort docking fees from them on what was a slow night. But according to Chuck, the storm on the river that night was one of the worst storms he had ever experienced. It was the last time Jason’s grandfather and his shipmate were ever seen or heard from again.
For the umpteenth time, Jason reviewed what he had learned about the trip and for the umpteenth time, he felt he had come to the end of his research and was no nearer to solving his grandfather’s disappearance. So, with the trail coming to a dead-end, Jason decided that the only thing left to do was to take a boat trip along the same stretch of water where his grandfather was last heard from and to somehow try to recreate the events.