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Are you a War Hero?
“Grandpa, are you a war hero?”
This is the question that my 5-year-old grandson had asked me as I was telling him about my days in the army. He was looking through my old things, medals, and old sepia toned photos. He placed my old helmet on his lap that I had worn honorably in World War 2.
He was observing it and ran his tiny, unstained fingers across the top until they halted at the sight of a tiny hole. It was placed on the top right side that did not puncture through the whole way. He looked at it for a few seconds confused as to what might have caused it, and then he placed it on his little head as it pressed down on his hair and flattened his curls. Still dropping the helmet till it covered his brilliantly painted blue eyes. He has my eyes, I thought to myself.
I looked at my hands that were crossed over my lap, and frowned at the sight of them. For they were stained. Stained with gunpowder residue, stained with blood from a thousand mens bodies. These hands had blood stains from men I fought with, the men that I had to carry to safety with their helpless bodies drenched over my shoulders; and them, lying there, unconscious…just dangling lifelessly. And these hands were stained with the venomous blood of my enemies.
I looked down at him, stumbling over my words for a few moments, I didn’t want to tell him that killing other people made me a hero, or just surviving out of pure luck, that sure as hell made me nothing short of a hero. I didn’t know how to respond to a 5 year old and I waited a few more seconds until I finally found the right words to say.
“Nah…” I said modestly.
“No, I’m no hero.” I said as I sighed, breathing out all of my memories snapping me back to present time.
He lifted up the helmet to the tip of his brows so that his eyes could look up at mine. His eyebrows lowered and his lips curled downward; he looked disappointed and opened his mouth a little as if to say something, but then closed it again.
I don’t want my grandson to see me as a hero in that way I thought to myself. As a murderer, I did what I had to do, fight for my country and what I believed to be the right thing to do. And I pray to God every day of my life that he never has to experience one single day in war. He is the last one in the family to carry on our name.
20 YEARS LATER
I stepped off the platform out from the plane still wearing my uniform. The sun feels hotter than usual and my palms are sweating. I lift the cap off from my head and brush the sweat away. I look up weakly and see a familiar face that I have always loved, and suddenly the heat and sweat dissipate. I run to her with a big grin smacked on my face and grab her. I hold her tight but not too hard, for she has aged and is more fragile than ever. She starts crying and kisses me all over. I am going home for the first time in 4 years with my Grandmother, and then we are leaving to see my Grandpa. I have been away fighting in Iraq and I have missed a lot over the years.
“Oh how I’ve missed you!” My grandmother squeezed my cheeks together and kissed my forehead.
“Let me look at you! You look so much like your father.” She said with a subtle smile with her tacky red lipstick as her hands loosened around my cheeks.
“So…how was Iraq Jaime?”
“Did you make any friends?” She interrupted.
“Well… yes but I-“
“Oh, and don’t tell me if you used those horrid weapons to…well hurt someone because I don’t want to know!”
“Grandma!” I had to get one word in but I know that she was only interrupting because she missed me.
“I was thinking that we could go visit Grandpa. I have a lot to tell him…I’m sure…that he all ready knows, but I just want to…I want to talk to him.”
“All right.” She said. “We can chat on the ride up.”
I had to drive us up because my Grandmother lost her license on account she’s 87 and can barely see anymore. She’s a skinny little thing, gray hair that curled at the tips, deep blue eyes, like mine, she always smelled of peppermint and soap, and she never wears makeup; except for today for some reason. Today she was wearing this tacky red lipstick that stuck to my forehead when she kissed me and most of it still isn’t off.
“Grandma why are you wearing lipstick?” I asked
“You like it?” She asked while fluffing her hair. “Last time I wore this lipstick shade was when I picked up your Grandfather from when he came home from the Second World War.”
“I thought that you were a nurse for the soldiers…weren’t you in the hospital?”
“Well as you know, the bombing of Pearl Harbor is what enforced the US to become involved in the war. I was working in the hospital, attending to soldiers who needed my care. Out of nowhere…bombing…everywhere. Sounded…like…like, fireworks going off…right next to your face.” She began to choke up a bit and looked away, but then she wiped her tears away with a handkerchief from her bag and continued on.
“I was getting morphine for the soldiers with my good friend Charlotte…when…when a bomb. A bar, from the building, right through… right between her…”
She pointed right below her breast and squinted her eyes and tears started pouring out. I put my hand on her shoulder and told her that she could stop telling the story, but being the strong woman she is she insisted to continue on.
“Right in the middle. As for me, I was only slightly injured. The explosion from the bomb…threw me. Smacked my head against the wall…knocked me unconscious…broke my leg. I was sent home the next day.
She stared out the window for a long time and I thought that she had fallen asleep until she said in an assertive voice…
“The sooner we get to your Grandfather the better!”
And I just nodded my head, and I had started thinking of what I should start with to tell him. I had so many stories to tell him!
We finally arrive and as I step on the even coat of grass…every strand stood so tall and perfectly, as if to make a statement, that even though what lies beneath us has fallen, we are still here, standing tall. I pass the white stones that are so similar in looks, but what lies beneath is the hearts of many men and women with different beats.
I kneel in front of one and look at it for a few seconds before I say, “Hi Grandpa…”