• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff 15

Here's Johnny - The ghost of past awards ceremonies

As Dear Readers know, one of my regular tasks at The Sun is taking pictures of Woodford County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cuttings. (The latest is in this week's paper.) Last weekend, I was looking through some of the articles I wrote for the weekly paper of the Naval Training Center, Orlando, when I came across a piece that reminded me why I enjoy ribbon-cuttings so much. Here, with only a few minor edits, is what I wrote as a 25-year-old sailor: You see some mighty strange things when you write for a newspaper, but perhaps the hardest to explain since I've been here is the Ghost of Past Awards Ceremonies. When we talk about it in the office, we still get the shivers. The legend began simply enough. We were combing through the stories and pictures for the next issue of The Navigator. The editor, after frowning for a moment or two, handed me a group shot of about two dozen civilians and sailors standing on the steps of the base theater. He asked me to try to find out who the elderly, bearded man in the middle of the picture was. "I've called about four numbers and even showed the picture around, and no one seems to know who he is," he said. I looked closer. Everyone in the picture was looking at the camera, most of them smiling, except for the old man. Wearing a white sweater or shirt, he was gazing off to the left, slightly off-center. The picture, taken by the base photo lab, was in perfect focus save for the man in the middle. It was strange, though - one minute he appeared slightly fuzzy, the next almost three-dimensional, which I attributed to watching the late, late show the previous evening. I began searching for the people we'd already identified, then, after spending much of the day showing the picture to people who'd been on base since there was a base, I began to wonder just what was going on. Someone's got to know who this man is, I thought. After all, he received an award, too, didn't he? After consulting the yeoman who typed up the list of awardees, I was no wiser. "Everyone who was on the list is in that picture," he said. "I've never seen that man before, and I know everyone who works here. He doesn't belong to this command." He gave me a quizzical look and went back to his yeoman's work. The next morning, I told my chief the whole story. He leaned back in his chair, smiled, and told me a story that made me drop that picture like it was on fire: Many years ago, shortly after World War II, when the base was Orlando Air Force Base, a major awards ceremony was held to recognize civilian employees who'd given their all for the war effort. A crowd of awardees, family members and onlookers filed into a converted air hangar early that Friday morning, filling the giant building. Name after name was called, and the men and women walked to the podium to receive their awards from a general who'd traveled from Washington, D.C., just for the occasion. After a half-hour or so, the ranks of awardees had thinned down to one man. The general made a few closing remarks, occasionally looking over his shoulder at the lone man left staring down at him. Finally, the general turned around and asked the man why he was standing there. "I'm here to get my award," the old man said plaintively. "Well, sir, I think your award might have gotten lost in the shuffle," the general responded, then turned back to the audience, grinned, and explained that sometimes these things happen. "We'll make sure to get this taken care of as soon as possible, sir," the general said, then stopped short when he realized the non-award winner was walking away with his head down. Ever since then, at least once a year, we get a picture with an extra person in it. No one ever knows who he is, but I've been here a few years, and I know it's the same man every time. I began to breathe again and looked down at the picture. The old fellow was still there. He looked a little lost and a little sad. The chief walked off to get a cup of coffee. "Well, old man," I said quietly, "I hope one day you got that award, whatever it was. I hope one day you realize it was all a mistake and that no one meant to hurt your feelings. I hope one day you can rest." The Ghost of Past Awards Ceremonies didn't respond. He just stood there on the steps of the theater, looking out of place. We ran the picture without any names.

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