5. ORIGINS AND INFLUENCE

I was fascinated by books of real life exploration that my dad had in his art studio. “Kon Tiki” by Thor Heyerdahl, Jack London’s Alaskan stories, poems by Robert Service that dad could recite from memory and Robert Louis Stevenson’s descriptions of exotic, South Sea locales. He also had a volume on exploration of a different type altogether: “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. I was at first intrigued by the book’s pictures that seemed to be angelic but without the stereotypical wings commonly associated with the heavenly beings. I couldn’t make out what the poetry meant at first but continued to study the text and slowly developed an understanding of its meaning.

Dad regaled my brothers and me with stories of growing up hunting and fishing around his Ketchikan, Alaska home and serving in World War II in the distant Pribilof Islands and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. He would teach us about explorers using a silly word association trick: Marco Polo walked to Peking, China, made a mark on a pole and came back to Italy; Hernando De Soto discovered the Mississippi River and found that it was full of soda pop.

Dad was especially proud of his Viking heritage. Wikstrom being a good Swedish name, he lived up to his romantic interpretation of the fearsome warrior explorers. In fact, he explained how our family name had its root in the same word as Viking. A Vik is a small stream or inlet and to go Viking meant that one was going on a journey across water, presumably to raid and pillage but also to maintain trade routes.

While we lived on the flats, a low-rent area near the railroad tracks, Dad’s art studio was tucked off to one side of the unheated garage. It was basically off limits to us. Not only did he keep his gun collection in there- 22 caliber break action rifles, a Colt 45 pistol with an extra-long barrel, a military issue carbine rifle that he had intricately carved with a relief of reclining nudes on the stock, but he also had his fragile plastic models. They were mostly military planes with exquisite detailing that he would apply with the airbrush that he normally used for photo retouching in his commercial art business.

One plane stood out amongst the others. A B-29. It was larger than the Spitfires, Mustangs and Corsairs and was hand-detailed with an insignia on its side; a forearm with a clenched fist striking at a Japanese flag with mountain peaks under it. Its name: Rush Order.

I’d heard the story from my earliest days: Bill was my father’s beloved older brother and the shattering loss of him over the Sea of Japan in World War II had filled my father with remorse and longing even ten years after the war. Bill was the lead engineer aboard and made several sorties “Over the Hump” of the Himalayas to attack Japan from the Northeast. We’ll never know the details. Was he shot down? Mechanical failure? Maybe they ditched near an isolated island. Perhaps he was still alive?

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