Sunday, August 13, 2017

Write...Edit....Publish: Reunions


The Last Reunion

Oscar opened the door to the party room at the Cincinnati senior center and prepared for one final reunion with his World War II buddies. They’d been infantry men, part of A Company of the 1st battalion, 116th regiment. They’d been among the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day, going ashore at Dog Green. Within 15 minutes of landing, most of the company had been shot, their bodies shredded to pieces. Oscar and his friends were among the few survivors.

When the war ended, the men had returned to their home towns of Milwaukee, New York, Houston, Sacramento, Savannah, and Bloomington, Indiana. Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Windsor Lock, Connecticut. They’d found jobs, married, and had children. None spoke of Omaha and the horrors they had endured on that bloody June day. There was too much life to be lived to focus on so much death.

But as their children grew and their nests emptied, as retirement took them out of the daily grind of working life, as they began traveling with their wives and visiting places they’d never had time to see as young men, their minds started to drift back to the summer of 1944. They allowed themselves to talk about what they’d experienced on the coast of France.

When the 50th anniversary of the day so many young men had been slaughtered loomed, Oscar realized he wanted to return to Normandy. He wanted to see Omaha Beach as it was now. As it had no doubt been for thousands of years. A peaceful stretch of coastline, with the waves of the Atlantic lapping the shore. The tide coming in, the tide going out. No blood, no screams of the dying, no terror.

For the first time in decades, he allowed himself to remember the men he’d screamed with, cried with, and found shelter with as bullets whizzed past their heads. He heard the cries of those who’d been shot and slaughtered as clearly as if their deaths had been five minutes, not five decades, ago.  And he wanted to know if his fellow survivors were still here, like him. Surviving.

So Oscar had arranged the first Company A reunion, and the men had traveled across the sea once more to meet on the bluffs of Omaha Beach. They’d visited the graves of those who had never been able to return to their home towns. They’d shed tears as they paid their respects in the cemetery marked with an unearthly silence and a sense of young lives taken far too soon.

From then on, they’d met every two years, taking turns hosting the reunions. Randy was the first one to leave them, felled by a cancerous tumor at the age of 75 rather than German artillery at 18. Harold went next, then Roger, Charlie, and Mick.

Two years ago, only three had been left to attend the Omaha reunion. Now, as Oscar prepared the room, he knew he would not be here by the time two years came around again. He hadn’t needed the doctor to tell him he only had about six months left, if that. There are some things a man simply knows.

So he’d reserved the room one last time. He’d asked his daughter to set up the folding chairs in a circle, the way the men had always sat when they met up. Now, he took out a folder of photographs.

The photos were taken when the men had first been drafted into the Army. They were young and trying desperately to look older and more distinguished. Their faces were those of innocence. Of neighborhood baseball games, summer jobs, first dates, and first kisses. Faces that had no comprehension of Omaha Beach and the horrors that awaited them.

Oscar went around the circle and placed a photo on each chair. Randy, Roger, Harold, Charlie, Mick. Tony, Bobby, Hector, Steven. All gone now.

Oscar sat down on the last chair and took a bottle of beer from the cooler he’d carried in from his car. He opened it and raised the bottle in a toast.

“Here’s to us, boys.”

Through the window of the senior center, Oscar could hear a dog barking and a cat mewling in response. A bus stopped, let its passengers off, and drove away again. The footsteps of a runner pounded the pavement of the sidewalk, fading as the runner moved along. A horn honked and a man shouted obscenities. A police siren wailed. Two women talked and laughed.

The time was coming when there would be no one left who could remember Omaha Beach. No one who would think of D-Day, or the war itself, as anything more than a chapter in a history book.

But that time was not here yet.

Oscar sipped his beer and looked around the room at the photos of his friends. “Here’s to us.”


My story was inspired by this photo of my Dad, a World War II vet who reconnected with his war buddies in the 1990s.

I'm excited to be participating in the WEP hop for the first time. Thanks to Denise Covey and Yolanda Renee for hosting!

41 comments:

  1. So poignant. Your ending sent shivers along my spine.

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  2. WOW! I've had tears in my eyes throughout this entire post. You've outdone yourself, Julie. It's a beautiful and poignant tribute. Your father would be VERY proud of you.

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    1. Wow, thank you, Susan! I'm so thrilled you liked it and I hope you are right about my dad being proud. :)

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  3. This is beautifully written, Julie.

    Love,
    Janie

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  4. Tears here too. Thank you. And those who serve, and are condemned to remember things we cannot.

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  5. What an honor to have you participate in WEP with this gob-smackingly poignant story. Like other readers, tears were in my eyes throughout. What an emotional journey. From the hopefulness of young survivors--"There was too much life to be lived to focus on so much death." To the “Here’s to us.” What a powerfully-moving story. The empty chairs did it for me. Your father would indeed be proud.

    Thanks for sharing this story for the WEP REUNIONS prompt, Julie. I hope you enjoy the experience and join us again.

    Denise :-) (Founder and Host for August)

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    1. Oh, thanks, Denise!! I'm thrilled you liked it! And I definitely want to participate again, already trying to think of something for Dark Places! :D

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  6. This gave me goosebumps. And tears. Omaha and all the other places where young men died in the war should never ever be forgotten.

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    1. Thanks, Susan! And I completely agree.

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  7. This is so well done, Julie! I especially like the part with the photos on the chairs - I could totally see that moment unfolding.

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    1. Thanks!! I liked that since the photo was what gave me the idea in the first place. Thanks so much.

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  8. Sad and beautiful story, Julie, and very well done. We tend to forget how young the people are who defend the rest of us.

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    1. Carol, I know, I am always kind of stunned when I think about my dad not even being 20 years old when he was sent overseas. I can't imagine. I could hardly handle college at that age!
      Thanks so much for reading.

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  9. A great way to honor your dad, Julie. Some forget about their sacrifices.

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    1. Thanks, Murees, I really appreciate that!

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  10. Hi Julie - what lovely tribute to your father - and then his tribute to his friends, who early on could and did join him ... and then the passing of the years and the chairs now empty - except for their photo.

    I haven't really got into the War stories ... but have joined a Military History group to understand a little - more ... it will be over time. But the Commemorations as they come up - the anniversaries in WW1, let alone WW2 ... and seeing the Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial - all draw me in ...

    So sad ... but beautifully told about your father - and he had a blessed life, more than most of his comrades. Thanks for sharing this story relating to that time of your father with us - cheers Hilary

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    1. Hilary, oh, I bet you will learn lots of interesting things from that history group. My parents went to Normandy and other war sites in 1994 for the 50th anniversary and I know it was a very meaningful and poignant trip. My dad didn't go ashore at Omaha Beach, thank goodness or I probably wouldn't be here, but he did go at Utah Beach so Normandy was very emotional for him.

      Thanks for your comments!

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  11. Let's hope that memory of Omaha Beach and the boys who landed there will never die. You've helped keep that memory alive, Julie.

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  12. Beautiful, Julie, truly! Our heroes will never be forgotten, not with stories like these to share! Thank you!
    It's wonderful that you've chosen to share it with the WEP. We are honored!

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    1. Oh, I'm honored to be a part of the event! Thanks, Yolanda!

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  13. Awe this is such a beautiful piece. I actually have tears in my eyes right now.

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  14. Wow, that was powerful, especially the ending with the photos set up in a circle. Excellent piece.

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  15. This is such an amazing story. I cried by the end. My mom is 84. She is no vet, but she is getting old and she is complaining: no one to talk with. She feels lonely; all her friends are going, leaving her, one by one.

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    1. Olga, I can understand re: your mom, my mom is 89 and so many of her friends are gone. It must be so hard to reach that stage! Thanks so much for your comment.

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  16. Such a moving piece - I had tears in my eyes at the end there! A great use of the prompt.

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    1. Thank you, Laura!! I'm thrilled you liked it.

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  17. Wonderfully written indeed. Has to be hard when everyone one knows passes and you're left alone, even more so with such memories.

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    1. I know, I can't imagine. Thanks so much, Pat!

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  18. Oh what a story. I have tears in my eyes. I live about six hours by car from Reims, France. I have also visited one of the cemeteries where some of the slain men were killed.
    Thank you for sharing this poignant truth in such a loving way.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Patricia

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    1. Oh wow, I had no idea you were in France, Pat. I can only imagine how moving it is to be at those cemeteries. Thank you so much for your comment.

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  19. Powerful and poignant. I really have no words - 'too deep for tears'. Brava! Great to connect through WEP. Look forward to more.

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    1. Thank you, Nilanhjana! So glad you enjoyed it and your comment made my day.

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  20. Wow. This story is amazing, and so beautifully-written, too. The inspiration behind it is even more touching!

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  21. Beautifully written, thank you for sharing this wonderful, bittersweet story.

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  22. This was wonderful, very touching. Awesome inspiration, too!

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Thank you for your comments!