Friday, January 17, 2014

Not So Quiet on the Western Front

The toy Lucy found
My grandfather told only two stories about his time as a soldier fighting for King George V in World War I.

One was about a medal he got for being wounded in combat. It looked like an extra-large, extra-thick golden Half Crown, with King George’s profile embossed on the front and my granddad’s name—John C. Doyle—engraved into the side. He gave it to us when we were kids, presumably to save himself the effort of flying to the UK and chucking it in the Thames.

“You can throw the damn thing out for all I care.”
“Tell us how you got it again, Granddad!”
“I got it for being shot.”
“Where were you shot?” (We already knew.)
“In the back of my neck.”
“Why’d you get shot in the back of the neck?” (We already knew.)
“Because I was running away. Those bastards were trying to kill me!”

The reason I can
tell the story about
the toy Lucy found
The other story was much more dramatic. During a particularly devastating firefight, in a particularly desperate effort to stay alive, Granddad jumped into a foxhole and came face-to-face with a German soldier who was pointing his rifle right at him. Fortunately, the German was as desperate to survive the war as Granddad was. They both immediately and simultaneously threw down their rifles.

Granddad was quite a charmer. He had a real gift for gab. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak German. Using broad facial expressions and slow hand movements, he pantomimed, “Do you want to capture me, or should I capture you?” After some brief give and take, they decided that the German would be the prisoner this time.

“So I walked that bloke off the battlefield at gunpoint. I was going to march him all the way back to King George himself, but my commanding officer took him from me and sent me back to the front.”

It usually takes a lot of coaxing to get Lucy home from her morning walk, especially when there’s snow on the ground and we’re playing by the river. But as soon as found this toy, she ran back home, dragging me the whole way. Made me think of how happy my grandfather must have been when he found that kindred soldier.

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