A Brave Man, a Memorial Day Memory

Brave, young, and frightened men waded ashore at Normandy.
Brave, young, and frightened men waded ashore at Normandy.

HE DIDN’T TALK about it much. He never talked about it at all until his eyes were dim, his face wrinkled by time, and his friends came to see him at night.

He said the day never crossed his mind.

D-Day, it was.

France, Normandy it was.

A rushing tide red with blood.

He was simply an eighteen-year old born in South Texas.

He knew he was about to die.

And he would be buried a long way from South Texas.

Every step brought him closer to eternity, and there were so many steps left to take.

I believe he lived with the moment every day.

He marched away from home full of life and laughter.

He didn’t laugh much anymore.

He hadn’t laughed, he said, for seventy years.

“Tell me about it,” I said.

“Not much to tell.”

“It was war.”

He shook his head.

“Wasn’t war,” he said. “It was a killing.”

“What had they told you about June 6?” I asked.

“Said we were going ashore.”

He paused.

“Said there would be some Germans on the beach.”

He closed his eyes.

“Said they might fight back.”

He shuddered.

“When did you know you were in trouble?” I asked.

“When the first bunch of boys came out of the boats.

He paused. “Most of them reached the shore,” he said.

He looked away.

“They were dead when they washed up on the beach.”

He shuddered.

Again

He shuddered.

“Were you afraid?” I asked.

“Didn’t have time,” he said.

He closed his eyes again.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, he could see all.

“First thing I knew,” he said,” we were in the water.”

His answer came in broken pieces.

“Lots of bullets.

“Fell like a heavy rain.

“I figured one would hit me.

“It didn’t.

“Don’t know why.

“Guess God didn’t need me.”

He sighed deeply.

“Got hit once,” he said.

“Got hit in the shoulder.

“Didn’t hurt much.

“I was too busy trying to stay alive to feel it hurt.”

“How long was the battle?” I asked.

“Don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Ain’t ended yet,” he said.

“What was it like when you reached the beaches of Normandy?” I asked.

He thought it over, then said, “You ever been in a bad storm?”

I nodded.

“Lots of thunder?”

I nodded again.

“Sky full of lightning?”

“I’ve seen it that way from time to time,” I said.

“I still hear the thunder,” he said.

He still sees the lightning.

It tears the ground at his feet.

It sears his soul.

The rain grows heavier all the time.

The rain looks a lot like bullets.

One of the shots tore his shoulder loose from his arm.

“Did you go down when you were hit?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Them that went down died,” he said. “I stayed on my feet.”

“What did you do?”

“I kept firing until my rifled burned out,” he said. “Then I grabbed another soldier’s rifle and kept on shooting.”

“The soldier hurt?”

“Not anymore,” he said.

“Could you see the face of the enemy you were shooting at?” I asked.

“Didn’t look.”

He shrugged.

“I just kept following Sergeant Fallows,” he said. “He kept running across the beach, and I stayed right behind him. He knew where he was going. He took me right along with him.”

“A brave man,” I said.

“The best,” he said.

He paused, took a heavy breath, and I caught a glimpse of a faint grin. “Sergeant came to see me this week,” he said.

“What’d he tell you?”

“He said everything was gonna be all right.”

The old soldier lay back in his chair and closed his eyes.

My interview was over.

I walked out and smiled at his daughter, a good friend of mine.

“He talked about Sergeant Fallows,” I said.

She smiled.

“Said they had a visit this week.”

The smile turned sad.

She nodded.

“Did you have a chance to talk with the sergeant?” I asked.

“Couldn’t do it,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Sergeant Fallows, from what I’ve learned, died before he ever reached the beach,” she said.

I looked back in the darkened room.

The old soldier said something under his breath and then smiled.

I wondered what the sergeant had told him, and if the sergeant had come to lead him home.

Maybe not tonight.

But someday.

I had no doubt about it.

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  • Sally Berneathy

    Powerful story, powerful writing.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Thanks, Sally. What he really went through, we’ll never know. What he really experienced, he never said.

      • Sally Berneathy

        I dated a few Vietnam vets, and not a one of them would talk about their experiences. War is awful, and it always comes down to one or two greedy control freaks who send other people off to die. Wouldn’t it have been great if we could have had–for instance–Hitler and Osama Bin Laden (yes, I know, we’re into time travel here, but you get the idea) fight each other to the death…and then we shoot the survivor?

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Old men in suits send kids to fight wars. Old men are too wise and too frightened to charge that hill. Kids go over the top and leave so many behind. But still they go over the top and bury what they see and experience deep inside. The worse scars are the ones that never show.

  • A powerful piece and an important day. I used to immerse myself in war stories. As a result, I have enormous respect for those who lost their lives on foreign soil fighting for freedom and fellow soldier. They will never be forgotten.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Woelf, you still write war stories. Only now they are science fiction. But still your books are populated with victors and losers and heroes. That’s why I have been writing historical fiction centered around World War II. I am fascinated by those who do more than they think they can do while facing death on a battlefield. We create characters, but all of them are based on real life. And today we say thank you.

      • Caleb Pirtle

        We do indeed, Alicia. And it should start with taking care of our veterans.

  • This emphasizes that we, as a nation, do not provide the support our veterans need when they come home. It’s easy to break a human, almost impossible to put one back together again. But we have to try a lot harder.

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