Transcript of speech by Tim McAllister at the Memorial Day dedication of the Brooklyn Captain Steven G. Rogers and Sergeant James B. Barnes statue.
I’m sure some of you are wondering why this young guy you’ve never heard of is speaking at this dedication ceremony, especially when there are so many people here today who actually served with Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes or were among the family and friends they had growing up here. To be honest, most people didn’t know I had a name at the time—to the rest of the world, I was the Boy in the Water: the seven-year-old kid who was tossed in the drink by the Nazi Hydra agent that Steve Rogers fought with that famous day on Brooklyn’s Pier 13.
My mother and I had been on a Lady Liberty tour with my aunt, who’d come to live with us when her husband was sent to the Pacific theater. At first, when that agent picked me up to use as a hostage, I didn’t even realize he had a gun to my head—I was too busy thrashing and trying to get away. I wasn’t fully aware, either, that the captain—well, he wasn’t Captain America just yet, but it’s hard to think of him now as anyone else—was trying to rescue me, until the man pointed his gun at him and fired, then threw me in the water when he realized he’d run out of bullets and I was useless as leverage. When Captain Rogers ran to save me, I told him, “Go get him! I can swim!” A number of bystanders and my frantic mother rushed to help me out as the captain sprinted off to stop the agent before he could get away.
Of course, most of you have seen the pictures that were in all the papers in the following few days, and there was quite a fuss made over both of us for a little while. Once he was identified and on stage as Captain America, Senator Brandt’s office arranged to have me formally meet him at Radio City to have our photo taken together. We all have an image of him now, from the newsreels and the films and the recordings of some of those USO stage shows, but I remember him from that night as a very quiet, thoughtful, humble man who was almost shy, really, and despite his easy smile and stage presence was never comfortable in the spotlight. After his heroic rescue of the Hydra prisoners of war in Austria, when he really, truly became Captain America, he seemed to settle into it a bit more, but even as a kid, I could tell he was more concerned with doing what was needed than what would get attention or make him look good.
He told me to write to him, and I did: I never expected him to answer, especially after he became so famous and was inundated with fan mail, mash notes, and marriage proposals, but somehow the handful of letters I wrote always got through, and he always answered. Miss Carter, who spoke earlier, was kind enough to send my letters back to me after Captain Rogers disappeared and they’re now in the museum’s hands. Seven-year-old boys don’t have a lot of important things to say, but the captain always made me feel like we were carrying on a very special correspondence of the utmost significance, like I was somehow helping the war effort. And I never knew Sergeant Barnes, of course, but I felt as though I did from the captain’s letters, because we were all kids from Brooklyn. Like them, my pop did not make it back from the war, although my uncle did.
The correspondence we had inspired me to want to be like him. I think most kids of our generation, boys and girls, wanted to grow up to be like Captain Rogers, but that’s not an easy thing to do, and I believe most of you here today who knew him or served with him would agree with that. Because of the captain, I joined the army when I was of age, went to OCS, and now I’m in a military history detachment, and I hope that someday, maybe, I can write a book about the exploits of Captain America and the Howling Commandos, perhaps a more personal take than we usually see.
I’ve often wondered what path my life would have taken if we hadn’t been at the pier that day and I hadn’t had that strange, slightly terrifying chance encounter with Steve Rogers. I’m proud to be here today at the unveiling of this memorial for him, one blue-eyed Brooklyn boy standing up for another. He’d probably think it was far too much fuss made over someone who was just doing what had to be done, but that’s what made him great enough to deserve this sort of honor in the first place.