While we were waiting at my grandfather’s bedside, it was a little crowded. His then 87 year-old brother was there, my Uncle John. I can’t imagine looking at someone who you thought of as your little brother all your life, watching them go.
He never left though. He never flinched. It was during this time as I sat next to him he started talking about some the worst days in his life. He started, carefully with a slight pause, on the words, “When I first looked at Utah beach…”
I had no idea he landed at Normandy on D-Day. I knew he had been in the war, I knew he had seen combat at the Battle of the Bulge. I had no goddamned idea he had come with the invasion force on June 6th, 1944.
I didn’t get a machismo-inflated war story, or a lament on patriotism. He told me what he saw. He told me how scared he was. He told me about the devastation of the country they were suddenly in, about the noise, shock, and awe of mortars, artillery, the reports of rifles, and screams.
They walked for days into France, into combat, and into the war that they had only just seen. They had nothing. They had long since run out of food, ammunition, medical supplies, hadn’t bathed, and were convinced they’d die before they found anything to help them.
There were supposed to be roughly 23,000 tons of supplies to land after the invasion, I have read. But only a little over 6,000 tons ever made it to port. The Allies, and in particular the U.S., had never run such a logistics operation. The invasion was thought to be a success by the second day, but ports had to be taken, supply routes open.
Uncle John told me finally one night, their radio operator screamed for them, as he relayed the message. One more day. They had to make it through one more day. They didn’t know how they would get whatever was being given to them, or where. He told me for that last night, he had never felt more afraid.
At daybreak, he was awoken by screaming, and then by what he told me was the loudest thing he’d ever heard. Reaching a hill with his company, looking up, were planes as far as the eye could see, filling the entire sky with crates and parachutes, flying so close to each other that to the men on the ground it looked as if the wings were almost touching. He told me he dropped everything he had been carrying for over a week and fell to his knees with tears in his eyes.
He said he was lucky. How he came back from the war to become an officer for thirty years, how he kept going then, and how he stayed with us and Grandpa and me, I’ll never know. Even now, I wonder, after Friday. After we buried him with a police honor guard while he lie in state. After the salutes and the flag and Taps and a volley of twenty-one, I will never understand.
And all he ever did was shrug and say, “Eh, what are brothers for?”
EOW. Rest well.
Post with 1 note
Maybe I’ve managed to convince about three people that what I’m selling isn’t a lawsuit-waiting-to-happen of their conceived notions v. my truths, that I try to mean what I say, but you know the fuck what? Every time September 5th rolls around and I think about your birthday and how you were older than me and how you’d have some more folky wisdom for me this year, that’s when I realize that you’re gone, far away from even my memory.
I can’t explain what made me happy then. I felt like Peter Parker meeting the spider that bit him; not exactly the dynamic you’d think of, but… Your life becomes a system of roots instead of just a sewer system. Instead of being a kid with a shitty life, now you’ve got power, something spectacular. But imagine going full circle back to the same thing that made you, instead of just a plot device. Then again, two real people compare a lot differently than a comic book origin story. Sounds more like meeting your long-lost parents than anything else.
Its surreal to think how much someone did care about you, and how you can recall every moment you saw that bond slip. At least I said my peace then, even if it was anachronistic.
You’re still the best family I never had.
just fucking kill me
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