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Tuesday, May 8 1944
Sometimes, when the lights went out for the night, he pulled her parting gift out of his knapsack.
Henry would sit quietly in his bunk, listening to the even sounds of his comrades’ breathing as they drifted off into a blissful oblivion. He would rub his fingers against the thin fabric of her folded handkerchief, pretending that the cloth he caressed was her soft porcelain cheek.
He only allowed himself to think about her when he was in the dark. When he thought of her, he felt emotions well up within him that would be impossible to hide from his friends. Memories of her bright smile and grey eyes caused him endless feelings of grief, sadness, loneliness…
Sometimes missing her drove him mad. He wanted nothing more than to escape his stupid frigate, leap across the ocean and sweep her into his arms once again. But he could not go back to her anytime soon-he was confined to a tiny metal hell in the middle of some foreign ocean with no way of reaching her. His only hope of returning home would be in a sealed box dressed in red, white and blue.
He shifted in his bunk-the rough, regulation grey blanket moving with him as he turned to face the wall. He could hear a low moan of agony from across the room-one of the boys was having a nightmare. The teen was whimpering softly in his sleep, begging some enemy for mercy as he tossed and turned under his own grey blanket.
As Henry tried to block out the sounds of the boy’s frantic breathing, he could hear the soft snores of his buddy Jonathan sleeping above him. Sometimes-when Henry stayed awake like this-he could hear Jonathan sigh out the name “Marietta” in his sleep.
Henry was well aware that he had not been the only soldier to leave his sweetheart behind, but sometimes it felt like he was the only one who mourned the loss of love. He felt a small unforgiving tear slip out through his eyelashes as he clutched the small handkerchief to his heart.
Man up. He constantly told himself. She’s only a girl. You’re only a soldier. You’re no different from anyone else in this damned war. You just weren’t meant to be together.
But he knew that he was lying to himself. She was not “only a girl”-she was his girl. And he was her soldier. He crushed the neatly-folded handkerchief in his hand as he tried to control his ragged breathing. He felt the tears coming on forcefully again, and he restrained himself the best that he could. The war was the only thing keeping Henry from love. He prayed to God that it would end soon.
Tuesday, June 6 1944
Henry stood apprehensively among his fellow soldiers, looking up towards the nondescript, European sky. He temporarily forgot about the tangles of fear that were weaving his stomach into knots. The small-town, green-eyed boy marveled at how the French sky looked so similar to his own.
He waded through the water, praying that this was finally the end. The enemy was scattered along the shoreline now, and Henry ran almost willingly towards them-it was time for this madness to come to a close.
A he lifted his weapon to rest on his shoulder; Henry tried to ease his mind by thinking of her last words to him-of the everlasting kiss that she had placed in the handkerchief. He recalled the smooth curve of her cheek and the way that her eyes sparkled back on New Year’s Eve. He thought of her sweet smile and of how her favorite color was periwinkle. And as Henry approached certain death on the shores of Normandy-the handkerchief was stowed in his left breast pocket-just inches away from his beating heart.