The pages of the old letter were faded and weather-stained. The words were barely legible and the ink had run in spots. A grey-haired man held the paper in slightly trembling hands as his eyes became heavy. Moments later, the words faded completely from view.
“Pearson! Get the lead out, will ya?” barked a clean-shaven, blue eyed sergeant of no more than 20. He scowled at another young man, a 19 year-old private who was sitting by his tent busily writing. “O.k., Sarge!” the young man returned, jumping to his feet and snapping a quick salute. The sergeant scowled again. “That’s SIR to you, PRIVATE”, he bit out. A slight smiled played at the corner of the private’s lips. “Yes SIR!”, he barked.
The men of Bravo Company gathered their gear and prepared to move out on a rainy, August morning. The sergeant scanned the faces of the men and addressed them. “Alright, boys. We’ve been ordered to secure the village by 09:00 hours. Corporal Weiman will take his squad, the rest of you are with me. Let’s MOVE OUT!”
The trucks rolled along the uneven road toward the small French village. The men sat in silence, their faces grim. They knew the German Wermacht had been ordered to hold the village at all costs and that house-to-house fighting would be the only way to dislodge them. The sergeant stared at the road ahead, his thoughts on home and his aging parents. He knew they must be worried sick, but he couldn’t let that enter his mind or cloud his judgement. “Sergeant Morgan?” A voice broke the silence. The sergeant turned quickly and stared into a familiar, anxious face. “Yes, Private Pearson?” Pearson stammered for a moment, obviously too embarrassed to ask the question on his mind. “Sir…” he began, “Could you…take this letter for me and deliver it to my wife….ya know…if I don’t make it? We got married a few months ago, and….I wrote some things down to say to her…” The private’s voice trailed off. “Pearson, you’ll be telling her those things yourself”, snapped Morgan. He regarded Pearson’s outstretched hand and abruptly grabbed the letter. “Fine, I’ll hold onto it anyway” he growled.
The fight for the village was fierce, but shorter than expected. By 08:30, the last remnants of the German force were being mopped up. Sergeant Morgan led his men to a section of houses in the center of the village and ordered them to take cover behind a burned-out car. “Pearson!” He called. Private Pearson ran quickly to the sergeant’s side. “Take Garner and go see if there’s anything we can use in the grey house”. “Yes, sir”, said Pearson. The two men crossed the street and circled around to the front of the house. They entered the front door and disappeared inside. Within moments, the house exploded into a ball of fire, sending debris flying toward the remaining squad of men.
The old man awoke with a start and was conscious of a middle-aged woman standing by his bedside, smiling at him. “Hello, Jim”, she said. “Feeling o.k.?” The old man nodded slowly, “Hello, Annie”, he said. “Guess I dozed off, huh?” The woman sat down on the bedside next to him and smiled sadly. “You’ve asked me for this letter every day for the past 45 years, Jim”, she said gently. “Isn’t it time you stopped reading it?” “I’ve never read it.” Jim began slowly, “It’s not my business to read it…I just…feel better somehow seeing it, knowing you still have it…after all this time. The old man’s eyes clouded and he choked out, “I sent him into that house, Annie. I took him away from you. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”
The woman’s smiled through hear tears. “You didn’t take him from me, Jim. You found me and brought this letter home to me, just as he asked. He has been with me these past 45 years. I carry him with me every day thanks to you.” The old man gently took her hand and squeezed it as the two sat in silence for the next several minutes.
In honor of those who sacrificed all on the altar of freedom.