"Homer, Did Anyone Ever Say, 'Thank You'?"
We stood on the eastern slope of a hill encircled by mountain ranges, Carlene, Brad, and I. At our feet lay a sleepy village nestled in the valley, Mountain City. Before us, imbedded in the grassy soil, was a bronze marker. It read, "Cpl. Homer A. Eastridge. U.S. Army." As we stood there, the shadows of the afternoon began to lengthen.
Homer was my brother.
It was Brad's idea.
It was Memorial Day. Much had been said in recent weeks about World War II, probably due to interest created by the current release of the motion picture, "Pearl Harbor." Brad volunteered, "Let's go to Mountain City and lay flowers on Homer's grave." The idea was readily embraced and so the three of us set out to honor a man who had given his life for his country.
Homer died for his country even though he never wore a Purple Heart. A bullet had ricocheted from his helmet on one occasion and, on another, he was pinned down in a snow-filled trench by gunfire for days. Homer was a gunner on a halftrack in the 7th Armored Division of the 3rd Army, and was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in battle. He had landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day and fought from there all the way into Berlin under the generalship of George S. Patton. When the war ended Homer returned home. His ordeal had not resulted in wounds to his body, but his mind was badly wounded. Those scars would never heal.
Homer had just emerged from his teen years. As a rather handsome young man, at least so described by the comely young blond to whom he was engaged, he had just landed a promising job in the town's furniture factory. He was ready to claim his wife and settle down for a long and happy marriage. They found a home and filled it with furniture from my father's store. Many of the furnishings were beautiful antiques. Life looked rich and promising.
A letter was delivered to their new home, a letter which bore a return address of the Selective Service System. In the early years of the war draftees were chosen by lottery. Unfortunately, by his reasoning, his number had come up.
Reluctantly, he left his life behind while his marriage was still in the embryonic stage. They had not had time enough to bond as husband and wife. Somewhat later, there came to Homer a letter from his young wife who had succumbed to the weight of loneliness. It was a "Dear John" letter, a letter so named because of the epidemic of letters from young wives to their servicemen husbands when the nights grew too long and too dark.
Finally, the war ended and Homer came home.
On his return, there was no wife to enfold him in her arms, no home sheltered with memories to rekindle. There was no job to return to. The only thing real and permanent to him
were the years of war and its indelible mind-altering tenacles.
As the years passed, Homer remarried, but there was little substance in the marriage. The only reliable escape from his torments was found in a bottle, itself filled with demons. He died in a Veteran's Hospital, an appropriate place for the war to end ... the war that had become permanent in his mind and had robbed him of a fruitful and happy life.
Brad knelt down and placed a single rosebud on the bronze marker.