Pennsylvania, thunderstorms in February, and climate change is a myth.
When will we wake up?
I only hope it is before it is too late.
Perhaps it already is.
THE FIRST SNOW
The scars are hidden,
But with warmth
The scar will again
Reveal the truth,
Lies can be hidden,
But the truth
A BELATED VALENTINE’S DAY GIFT
I had intended to post this yesterday, but transferring from one computer to another shut my goals down.
Finally here it is. I wanted to share with you a story of love, although you will have to read this short story to the end to see what I mean.
This is my first published story, published by Enigma. The location of the story is the Mid Atlantic Air Museum located in Reading, PA. Every year the present a fantastic show during the first weekend in June celebrating the men and machines of WWII. If you are drawn to history, to see aircraft of that era flying as well as reenactors and vehicles of the war we fought, I encourage you to attend.
I am member of the museum and have worked admissions for more than ten years. If you can locate me, when you make the effort to attend, tell me if you enjoyed the show, and if you can’t attend, tell me if you enjoyed the story.
The June morning was brilliant and clear with just enough of a breeze to keep you cool despite the predicted eighty-degree day. At the age of eighty-two, for Christopher Johnson, getting up in the morning was not an easy chore and had lately not seemed worth the effort. He turned his head and looked at the pillow beside him. “I miss you so much honey,” he said quietly. His wife Peggy had died less than a year ago. One night they went to bed as usual. The last words he had said to her were the words he always said to her before falling asleep, “I love you.” When Chris awoke, Peggy was dead of a heart attack. A few days later he was looking into her grave knowing a large part of his life was now buried in the cold earth. After almost sixty years of marriage, the pain of her loss was intense, almost as intense as the love they had shared all those years.
With Peggy still on his mind, he sat up and began to stretch his arthritic limbs knowing the pain that would follow. Next he stood up and took a few steps; those first steps, they were the worst of the day. He winced with every movement, but soon his joints and muscles settled down to the constant pain that accompanied him these days.
He had gotten up earlier than usual, for today, unlike most of his days, he had an appointment, something to do. He opened his closet door and, in the back, he found what he was looking for: his U.S. Army ranger dress uniform, the one he had worn on his return home after being wounded during World War II. With persistent pain, he maneuvered his body into the uniform that, after sixty years still fit his slender frame. He looked in the mirror, and the toll of those sixty years stared back at him. The hair on his head and his mustache had gone gray years ago. His eyes, once admired by his fellow soldiers for their ability to spot enemy aircraft or fortifications before anyone else, now watered behind heavy bifocals. He inspected his image, looking over the uniform for signs of moth damage. The area of his uniform he examined first was his chest; there hung the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was proud to have served his country, proud of his awards but knew, that in combat, a split second could mean the difference between a dead soldier and a hero. Satisfied that his uniform had survived another year, he returned it to the closet and dressed in his usual summer shirt and khakis.
While Chris hung up his uniform, his mind still held the Medal of Honor and the events that led to its award.
The day was D Day, early in the morning of June 6th. Chris was among a group of Army Rangers that would be the first to hit the beach. Their objective was to climb and secure the cliffs overlooking the landing sites. These cliffs held guns that could hazard the ships and soldiers, and the hazard needed to be removed. German soldiers were stationed on the cliffs, ready to rain death on unprotected soldiers landing on the beach below. Chris and his three buddies Frank Grimes, Larry Schwartz and Duck Dupont were together in the landing craft, along with twenty other rangers heading toward the beach.
Chris had begun basic training knowing no one. Soon he gravitated to three other guys who seemed to be as lost and alone as he was. The four of them gradually became friends and survived the ordeal together. Of the three, he was closest to Duck Dupont. Duck’s real name was Willard; he gained his nickname Duck during a basic training class. The class was walking past the artillery area when a practice round went off. Most of the class flinched, but Duck was on the ground with his head covered by his hands. From then on he was known as Duck.
His thoughts returned to June 6th.
It was still dark and they landed unopposed. The men quickly and quietly disembarked and headed for the base of the two hundred foot cliff – it would be quite a climb. When everyone was in position, they fired ropes up the side of the cliff. This brought the response they expected, Germans began firing down the cliff and rangers began to collapse on the beach. Chris and his friends were to stay together and climb along with most of the rangers while the rest provided cover fire. Soon the German fire lessened then ceased as the rangers continued their climb.
The four friends were the first to reach the top of the cliff. What they saw sent a shiver through them all. Before them, set back about fifty yards from the edge of the cliff, stood a series of three bunkers. The first light of dawn streamed through the trees beyond the enemy, and all seemed quiet and peaceful except for the machine guns projecting from behind sandbags. They knew they had to act fast, for if they didn’t, the rangers coming up the cliff would be cut down as soon as they reached the top. They split up into two groups; Chris and Duck went to the left – Frank and Larry to the right. The two flanking bunkers had to be eliminated before the middle position could be attacked. Each group approached the nearest bunker and tossed a grenade inside. The simultaneous explosions sent German soldiers into action. The rangers had missed one. Along with fire from the third remaining bunker, a fourth bunker opened up along with mortar fire from behind the bunker. The fourth bunker surprised the rangers and had a clear shot at them. Duck was literally cut in half by machine gun fire. Larry was attacking the third of the bunkers they had seen, having just pulled the pin from a grenade when he was shot. They never did find Frank. Chris entered the first bunker they had taken out, pushed aside the mangled German bodies and manned the machine gun. He quickly took out the bunker they had overlooked before, creeping up to the last remaining bunker; he destroyed it with grenades. The actions of the four men had saved the lives of the rangers now reaching the summit of the cliff and helped secure the landing site for the invasion.
In the early morning silence, after the heat of battle, Chris collapsed on the ground part from fatigue, part from pain, but mostly from grief – his friends were gone. Chris had shrapnel wounds in his left arm and hip. At some point his helmet had taken a hit and deflected the bullet but the impact gave him a nasty scalp wound. Blood now streamed down the side of his face and soaked his collar.
These are the memories that flooded into Chris’s mind as he put away his uniform and prepared to spend a weekend at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum as a guest of honor, something he had done for the last five years. This would be his first year going without Peggy at his side. He knew it would not be the same without her, but he still looked forward to the event.
The museum had organized a weekend devoted to the history of World War II for the last ten years. It was a living history lesson with vintage aircraft flown in from all over the country, and encampments set up with hundreds of reenactors dressed in the World War II uniforms of the United States, England, France and Germany. The museum also invited veterans from the war who would give first hand accounts of combat. But none of them told what the war was really like for their memories were selective, cleansed by time, and they all carried within them that area of memory they would never enter again.
World War II weekend started Friday morning and, although he wasn’t scheduled to give his presentation until Saturday, Chris always went Friday to wander the hanger and apron crammed with vintage World War II fighters, bombers, trainers and transports. He could remember when the skies were filled with their kind. Now there remained only a few of each. On those warm Friday afternoons, he enjoyed walking through the encampments. At one point he saw three men in ranger combat uniforms. He smiled to himself, glad to see his branch of the army represented. Chris loved strolling through the tents. In his mind, there was nothing like the smell of a real canvas tent; the open flaps were your windows and the grass was your floor. He had seen the tents his grandchildren used when they camped, it was like camping in a nylon bag, no smell, no character. In one of those old canvass tents, he could stand, close his eyes, and the memories of his days in the army would flood into his brain.
Another reason he enjoyed the Fridays was the veterans whose attendance was heavy. The old men and women enjoyed the smaller crowds and slower pace that Fridays afforded. He enjoyed conversations with his contemporaries, reliving the past and recalling the days they were once young and involved in the great adventure they shared.
Saturday morning arrived, the sky again clear and blue. He went through his morning routine, slowly struggled into his uniform and waited for his nine o’clock ride to the museum. Chris looked forward to the day. Although he had never made a big deal about his award, one day bathed in the admiration of people who appreciated the sacrifices made during World War II did not hurt him, not at all.
With his first lecture scheduled for 10:30, he was anxious to get to the museum. He found the tent for his lecture. There were about fifty folding chairs set up. He took a moment and stood there alone, letting his mind recall memories that he usually avoided, memories that he would touch slightly, just slightly today.
As he waited at the speaker’s platform, the tent began to fill up. At the back of the tent, he spied the three young men in ranger uniforms he had seen the day before, standing together apart from the crowd. Maybe today they would learn something about the uniforms they wore.
The chairs were full and people were standing in the back as Chris went into his presentation. He shared with them the events of that early morning on the French coast, sanitized, but with enough action to keep the crowds attention. After thirty minutes he was done and ready for questions. Half way through the questions one of the men dressed as a ranger raised his hand and said, “Sir, I just want you to know we appreciate what you did for your country.”
That brought a smile to Chris’ face, “I appreciate that son,” he answered.
The presentation over, the tent was cleared, and it was time for a little lunch and a chance to watch the vintage aircraft flying. This was the part he most enjoyed. The drone of the B-17 accompanied the whine of the Merlin powered P-51s. He knew the planes were the big draw, not old men wearing old uniforms, but he was happy to be part of the show.
First to fly were the trainers, SNJs and T-28s. Then the observation aircraft would fly, the L-19s, followed by the transports, the C-47s and a C-54. Before the fighters and bombers took off, the reenactors took the field in front of the crowd. To the left were the men in German uniforms, to the right the U.S. Army.
The uniformed men fired blanks and mock mortars at each other. There were also smoke grenades thrown by both sides. All this action took place in a grassy area between the runway and aircraft taxiway. As usual, the fire department stood ready for the grass fires the smoke grenades always started, and this year was no exception. The grass fires were more of a nuisance than a danger, and they were always rapidly dealt with. In fact, the dense plumes were greater than any of the regular attendees of the show could remember, and the fire company quickly prepared to hose down the grass. Chris stood there with the rest of the crowd as the shroud of smoke drifted over them.
Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was one of the rangers, “Sir, we need your help.”
“Sure son, what can I do for you?” came Chris’ reply.
“Could you join us sir?” the ranger questioned. The ranger started walking towards the smoke set off by the mock battle, flanked by the two other rangers Chris had noticed before, and bewildered, Chris followed.
Soon smoke enveloped the four men. The crowd, watching the firemen putting out the grass fire saw the three reenactors on the field but could not imagine why an old man in uniform was traipsing in after them. They saw the four enter the clouds of smoke and lost sight of them.
Chris walked, not knowing where the three young men were taking him. His arthritis bothered him as he entered the smoke, but a few steps into the haze his pain was reduced, and then gone. He noticed something else; he no longer wore his dress uniform but wore the ranger combat uniform, same as the reenactors. All at once he was puzzled and amazed and had no idea what their destination could be.
The three re-enactors slowed down and Chris easily caught up with them. “How in the hell are you, Chris?” asked Duck. Frank and Larry were slapping his back and pounding his shoulders, his young shoulders.
“We’re on a mission and need your help,” said Frank. “We need the squad together,” he continued.
“I’m your man,” said Chris taking off his helmet and running his hand through his thick dark hair. His mind still could not wrap itself around what was happening.
Some of the crowd there to watch the flying saw four figures begin to emerge from the smoke, the figures of four young men. The men entered another cloud of smoke before them and were gone.
Chris and his three buddies came out of the haze. They were on a dirt road surrounded by a forest. They were all holding rifles, but Chris could sense no danger. They were on patrol and Chris felt better than he had ever felt in his life. He was with his best friends, men he had missed all these years and men he loved. The sky was so blue it almost hurt his eyes. The trees and grass were the greenest green he had ever seen. He set out with his three friends, easily matching their stride.
Suddenly, Chris’ eyes filled with tears. He did not know how, did not understand what was happening, but somehow he knew his young and pretty Peggy was waiting up ahead.
Around here just about everything is closed on Sundays. I remember everything being closed on Sundays when I was a kid. I think this is a good thing. Having one day a week to focus on what is important in life, revisit your spiritual beliefs, visiting with friends, neighbors and family, or just relaxing seems to be almost a thing of the past.
Not here. It has taken some time to get used to the idea that if I want to run to the store for something, then I have to plan on driving further and it taking longer. And I will have to deal with the traffic and all the other shoppers rushing to get things done before the day is done.
Around here the Amish celebrate Sundays with church and visiting. So driving around is slower. More buggies to pass. Lots more.
But you know what? It’s really…
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Is it any wonder that the novel by George Orwell, 1984, has recently become a best seller?
I’m sure the is just the beginning of more people ever before taking a stand for what the feel is right.
Do you know those events that reaffirm your hope and trust in people? Those times where you think you should give up and move on, but something or someone inspires you to keep going? Those people who shake up your perspective and urge you to move forward?
I had the privilege to witness and be a part of one of those moments. I had the joy of attending the Women’s March in New York.
I have to admit, prior to going, a tiny voice in the back of my head shouted “what if it’s not as good as you think it’ll be? What if no one really shows up?”
To that tiny voice in the back of my head: how wrong you were.
Trains both to and from New York were packed with pink hats and signs. There was cheering on my train when we arrived at Grand Central. Walking into…
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