Posted by on Nov 11, 2011 in Photographs, Sacred Experiences | 0 comments

I was only an hour late for his appointment, but by the time I walked the stooped, old man back for his test, he vibrated with a barely suppressed rage. For some reason, I felt an intense need to communicate with him, but nothing I said broke through his anger. That is . . . until I noticed an old army tattoo on his arm.

“I’m of the opinion there’s always a story behind a tattoo. Do you mind me asking about it?”

“I got that when I was young and stupid in WWII,” he growled.

Discomforted by his answer, but anxious to connect, I asked, “What did you do in the war?”

Instantly, tears glistened in his eyes. “It’s okay,” I touched his arm. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“I know,” he sighed, “but I want to.”

As a twenty-three years old lieutenant, he’d commanded a landing craft on D-day. Most of his men were killed before they set foot on the beach. “They all had families and sweethearts and I had no one,” he whispered. “Yet I was the one who survived.

I had to do so many bad things. I can’t even speak about it fifty years later, but it got better. I became an aide for a colonel. No responsibility for anyone but myself. Used to go up to the front for information. Once on the way back, artillery exploded near my vehicle. I bailed out just before the jeep blew up. Twice, I survived by split second timing.” His voice continued, raspy with emotion.

“Nothing ever worked out for me when I got back. Divorced twice, can’t hold a job, no kids. But I’m still here. For what reason?”

I had no answer.

By the time I finished his test, the old man seemed much calmer. As he walked away, I called after him. “Sir, may I shake your hand?”

“Yes, but why?” he demanded.

“I’d like to thank you for all you’ve done.” His glassy eyes made mine fill with tears. We shook hands and as he turned to leave, I watched an amazing metamorphosis. His bent frame unfurled like a flag in the breeze. He walked tall and proud. I saw a young man, ripe with potential before the demons of war stole his soul. Inside, I was saluting.

~J.K. Ingersoll

 

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