WHEN Jack Crane landed in California from Hawaii, it was five years almost to the day since he left the United States. Only five years: yet, to Crane, it seemed that enough had happened to fill a history book.
In his years as a war correspondent, Crane had seen many things he would like to forget. There were others he would always want to remember.
Crane knew, from his own experience, how war brings suffering to many innocent people. Yet, amid all the misery, there was opportunity for the best in human beings to come out for men (and women, too) to be brave, unselfish and thoughtful of others.
Mary Ann Lee was an example of this, Crane thought. She was not in uniform. To all appearances she lived an ordinary civilian life in California. Yet Crane was sure that one of the war stories he would never forget was the way Mary Ann Lee once helped a soldier in distress.
It was in a servicemen's Canteen in California that Crane first heard the story of Mary Ann Lee. Later he heard it in many places where men in uniform gather. Mary Ann, he found, had become almost a legend of kindliness for soldiers and sailors far from home.
She had been a ticket-seller in a local theater, Crane was told. Most evenings, she worked. On her one free evening a week she used to go to the servicemen's Canteen. She would wait on table, bringing the men coffee, food and a smiling word for everyone.
It was tiring work, and it didn't pay a cent. But Mary Ann liked to be doing something to make the boys in uniform feel at home. She had a brother in the Navy. She liked to think that (wherever he came to port) there would always be someone, like herself, to make her brother feel at home.
A SOLDIER'S TROUBLE
One night Mary Ann came on duty and found a soldier sitting by himself in the back of the Canteen. He looked unhappy and she stopped to talk to him.
"What's the trouble?" she asked. The soldier didn't answer, and she sat down. "Tell me what's wrong, soldier. There's always something we can do to make things better."
The soldier pushed a telegram towards her. "It came this morning," he said. "It's about my brother. He used to be a radio operator aboard a cargo ship.
"The telegram says his ship was torpedoed. My, brother stayed at his radio to send a message for help. That's how he was drowned..."
For a while Mary Ann did not break the silence. "I'm sorry," she said at last.
"It's not just for me," the soldier went on. "It's my mother. I don't know how to tell her. She lives 200 miles from here.
"My brother had a feeling he might not come back. He gave my address, instead of my mother's, on his papers. He wanted me to break the news to her, if anything ever happened."
Mary Ann asked the soldier why he didn't telephone. He shook his head.
"I've got the money," she said, "if that's any help." Again the soldier shook his head.
"I could do all the talking on the telephone," Mary Ann went on, "if you think that might be any better. Or I could write a letter for you, if you give me the address."
The soldier still shook his head. "You don't understand," he said. "I ought to be with mother when she gets this news. That's what my brother wanted. But I can't. I'm shipping out of here tomorrow.
"Mother has been very sick. I'm afraid the news will make her worse."
It was then that Mary Ann Lee did what Jack Crane knew he would admire her for until the end of his life.
"Don't worry soldier," she said. "Your mother will be all right. I'll take care of her.
"Tomorrow, when you're aboard ship going wherever you are going I'll be at your home. I'll tell your mother how her other son gave his life for the men aboard his ship.
"I'll stay with her and take care of her, soldier. You can count on me. You can be sure that everything will be all right."
SPENT HER SAVINGS
The next day Mary Ann Lee quit her job. She took her savings out of the bank and bought a ticket to the soldier's home town.
She rented a room there and went to see the soldier's mother. She didn't visit only for a day. She stayed for many weeks, until it was certain that the woman had recovered from her illness.
When Mary Ann Lee came back to her home town, she had used up all her savings. To do a kind act for a stranger she had given up many things for herself things she had been saving for ever since she first began to work.
Yet Mary Ann never told anyone what she had done. They never found out, at the Canteen, until the soldier's mother came to see them one day and told them what had happened.
The next time Mary Ann came to work at the Canteen the others who worked there told her it was a fine thing that she had done. The Canteen was proud of her, they said.
Mary Ann listened to them, quietly. "I felt it was the only right thing to do," she said.
"It's what I'd want someone to do for my brother in the Navy, if he were in trouble in a town and needed a friendly hand to help him."
NEXT WEEK: JACK CRANE TAKES PART IN A U-BOAT BATTLE IN ATLANTIC WATERS.