In case you have never sat down with a veteran and talked about what happens on the battlefield, I want to tell you a secret: War sucks.
No one can refute fox holes are nasty business. Yes, they protect from some projectiles and shrapnel, but they are also deadly, nearly inescapable targets.
No one denies the hours stink, the conditions are rotten and the pay non-existent. The training is grueling, the hours bite and a social life is lacking.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch…
The conditions are only better in terms of shelter and creature comforts. In the empty bed where your soldier should lie, fear, longing and loneliness are huddled stealing the blankets.
The masses who would not volunteer for such patriotic jobs toss unappreciative japes, snide remarks and pejorative epithets.
Until one day…
A yellowed envelope in my hand
from another time, a total other life,
but it seems like only yesterday.
His brown hair was short.
His shirt had a patch: Western Union.
Mother knew why he had come that Thursday.
I held her skirt hem between my fingers,
as her trembling hands fumbled
with her change purse to tip the young man.
Her mouth moved, but no words came out.
He said, “You’re welcome, and ma’am,
I’m sorry.” Mother took my hand.
She slumped against the door. A
tear slid down her cheek and splashed
on the front of her blouse. I did not understand.
Mother stood up tall and tried to smile at me.
She asked me to go to the kitchen
to get her a glass of water to drink.
I stopped, turned and watched
as Mother touched Father’s picture in a silver frame
beside the sofa. He smiled at her, I think.
She stared at the envelope she held at her knees,
so I went to the fridge to pour some water.
I sat beside her and took her hand.
“Sweetheart, I know how much you love your father,
but I have to tell you something.
Do you know President Truman?”
“Yes, Mother, the President of the United States.”
I could not understand what he had to do
with Father or the young man.
“President Truman sent Father to Korea to be a soldier,
so that we can be free. He sent me this telegram today,
with bad news, I’m afraid.
“Father is not coming home. He was in a battle over there,
and he was killed. That is what
the President’s telegram said.”
“But Mother, you haven’t opened it.
How do you know?” She tried again to smile and
took me in her arms. “I don’t understand.”
Today my daughter called, “Can I come over, Mom?”
The silence of her tears was loud in her voice;
its timbre very plain.
I put on the coffee and pulled out my treasure chest,
filled with memories, some very sweet,
yet others filled with pain.
Her keys clattered on the kitchen counter
by the back door. The flash of paper in her hand
brought back my image of Mother.
She saw what I had in my hand, too.
“Mom, I can’t open it. I know what it says.”
One tear slid down her cheek, onto her collar.
Mother never opened hers.
I took my daughter’s.
Telegrams never change.
If this touched you, please tell me how.
Show gratitude to members of the armed forces.