By Ellen Leventhal
In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to share a few memories. I post this every year, and I hope it helps you remember all who have served.
The story starts many years ago; just one moment in time. The place was Belgium on the road to Bastogne. The soldier was brave, but had no idea what lie ahead of him. The date was New Year’s Day, 1945. He believed in the fight, and he believed in his orders. But despite the best laid plans, war, like life, doesn’t always follow a set path. He was to lead the attack, but when he looked around, all he saw were enemy tanks and machine guns. Time stopped, but duty didn’t. Looking out through blurry eyes onto the devastated scene in the frozen distance, the soldier saw two wounded men. One was carrying another on his shoulder. Sticking out of the walking man’s shattered leg was his bone, or what was left of it. The soldier ran and carried both men to safety. He left them at the aid station, fearing that death was a certainty for these men. When he returned to his tank and had time to look, he saw that it was in ruins. All that remained was a picture of his high school sweetheart.
Time passed. The war ended, and miraculously, the soldier came home. With him he brought medals, injuries, hope, and too many memories. But still, he knew the memories would fade, and he had his life ahead of him. As the soldier stepped off the train under smoky blue skies in his familiar New Jersey city, he took a breath and reveled in the excitement of the welcoming party. But there were doubts, pain, and memories. But time, the gentle healer, would take care of that. He was sure of it. And time passed.
He and his sweetheart married, set up house, went to work, and raised two children. And the soldier told stories. Sometimes the stories were told between bites of steaming buttermilk pancakes in New Jersey diners. Other times, on family trips, discussions of historical monuments and natural grandeur were peppered with casual comments about how this café or that group of young men reminded the soldier of his war days. The stories were familiar to the family. They were woven into the tapestry of their lives. At first, these stories were about buddies and a loud, blustery fellow named Patton. But when they were old enough, the children heard about that New Year’s Day. And slowly, very slowly, the soldier shared the horrors of the concentration camp he helped liberate. Even time wouldn’t allow him to forget that. The images stayed with him, surrounding him as much as the air itself. They were not just stories. They were part of him and a part of history. But they were in a different time. Life went on. But still, there were the memories. While others planned their New Year’s celebrations, the soldier’s thoughts were filled with the memories of a bloody New Year’s Day. He thought of the dead soldiers and the soldiers he carried to a brief safety .He knew in his heart, those men didn’t survive. Each New Year’s Day he made a toast to those who fought with him that day and to those two strangers who surely did not make it home.
But time went on. The soldier tried to find some meaning in the deaths and injuries. He himself did not escape unscathed, either physically or emotionally, but life and time would go on. He counted on time. So much can change in one brief moment.
And then it happened. Another moment in time changed the soldier’s life once again. Forty years had passed and the soldier was busy working at a popular publishing house. The phone rang and grudgingly he answered it. It was a ghost. It had to be. “Do you remember New Years Day, 1945?” said the phantom on the other side of the phone line. “You carried me to safety.”
The color drained out of the soldier’s face, and another point in time appeared as if no time had passed at all. It was a reunion of soldiers and a blending of time. Each man thought the other was dead, but through a series of unlikely events, time was tying things together. They talked and found out they had many things in common, not the least being that they survived when so many others didn’t. They also found that they lived near each other, and they soon became close friends, as did their wives. Several years after the reunion, the man died, and the soldier helped look after his widow. He knew that he was still saving the man in some way.
The soldier has since passed away, and with him he took many memories and much pain. But time does have a way of healing and tying things together. The wives stayed friends and speak every day. They talk about the miracles of their husbands finding each other, and in turn, the miracle of their friendship. The story continues, and yet each day is just like that day so long ago, just one moment in time.