Like everyone else lately, my thoughts are preoccupied with the possibility of war. When we get together with our friends and discuss it, we realize that all of us have children who easily could be going off to be killed within the next few months.
Even so, I am struck with the difficulty of grasping the reality of it.Often, my mind goes to my two uncles, who were both killed in World War II. Uncle Vern died in the Pacific, at Bougainville. Uncle Louis died in Belgium.
I remember Uncle Louis' wife, Georgia Lou. She had fiery red hair. I remember their daughter, Delina, and their son, Raymond. Delina was about my age. Raymond was a few years younger. He had red hair like his mother. Sometimes we would play together at Grandpa's. I was young, and I didn't realize what was happening in the larger world and the effect it was having on Uncle Louis' family and Grandpa.
Some years ago, Thelma, my mother's cousin, showed me a postcard from Uncle Louis, written just before being shipped overseas. Postmarked Nov. 27, 1944, Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, it reads as follows:
"Just a line or two to say `hello,' & let you know I still think of you all, even tho I never write. Do hope you are all enjoying good health.
"Hows the snow situation up there, is there any? It's been damn cold down here & have had one inch of snow so far.
"Well I left Alabama and was stationed near New York City, about a wk. or more ago, was there for several days at a P.O.E. Camp. Had a couple of twelve hour passes in to N.Y.C. had a nice time looking over the well known spots, honest to heck, let me tell ya, its sure a hell of a big place. Its got the worlds best railroad transportation systems, all of it underground, plus bus and st. car lines. I saw the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Gardens, and also visited the Astor hotel & etc.
"Took the ferry across the Hudson River to Staten Island and Jersey City, N.J. Sure a lot of wonderful sites. I sure wish Dad and them all could see the things I've saw. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco, altho I like San Fran. much better than N.Y.C. Its too damn big for me, best of all, I'll take dear old Alpine any day of the week.
"So far, I've seen quite a few of the 48 states now. Ut. still leads tho.
"I seldom hear from my folks. Where is Virginia now? A third of the Div. was left behind, so they sent us up here, the rest have gone over. We'll all go over in time. Haven't heard from Georgia since the ninth, guess her letters will catch me some day. My regards to all, and my love. Your Cousin Louis.
"P.S. How's the turkeys this year? I could sure use a fruit cake if you were to send me one. Ha ha."
From Uncle Louis' postcard, I get the sense that as close to war as he was, it was difficult, even then, to comprehend the gravity of it. Within the next few weeks, he and his new army buddies were shipped out to catch up with the rest of their division in Belgium, where, as unseasoned troops, they would be taking the brunt of fire in the death throes of Nazi resistance in the Battle of the Bulge.
But they were to be spared that terror. On their way to the front in transport trucks, they were bombarded by artillery shells. There were ony three survivors from his unit.
I have tried to picture what may have gone through Uncle Louis' mind in those final moments in a foreign country half a world from home. Is there time to think of your children and what will happen to them now? No time for the luxury of such thoughts . . . only the reality of sudden, unexpected explosions, the smell of smoke, the sound of breaking glass, and the screams of men dying.
All at once, war is very real.
Back in Alpine, Grandpa received word of Louis' death from Georgia Lou even before word came that he had arrived overseas. Suddenly he was gone, the little boy who used to sleep in a crowded bedroom off the kitchen, who loved to climb in the poplars out by the barn, who had come home one day in a bright new army uniform to say goodbye and couldn't bear to, who had never wanted to go to war in the first place, or to die so young so very far from home.