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Out of the Blue

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By gadget6
June 27, 2001

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Yesterday I took a trip to my local Barnes and Noble to cash in some gift certificates. You see, as an acknowledged bibliophile, I tend to grab books when I can get them (my wife thinks it's a sickness). As I walked in, I saw a sign for a book signing/discussion with Andrew Carroll, the author of "Letters of a Nation" and more recently "War Letters." Having never been to a book signing, although I have a few signed copies of prose, I figured I'd stick around and see what the man had to say.

I had been considering buying "War Letters" for some time, but, for one reason or another, had not yet purchased it. When Andrew showed up, a small knot of people settled in to listen. I stood in the back of the group, to watch expressions and interaction from the audience of ten or so.

Andrew began talking about why he edited the book. He took great care not to say he "wrote" it; on the cover he is listed as the editor, even though he penned the introductions for the various letters. Then he began reading from selected letters in the book. Powerful is the only word I can use to describe the effect that these snippets of the past began to have on me. Having been in the military for 14 years, including active participation in one war and close anticipation of another, I could see these individuals writing their letters home from frozen Korean hilltops, endless seas of Pacific blue, acrid, smoke-filled civil war battlefields, and the oppressive jungles of Vietnam. I could see these people like I was standing next to them.

So, I bought the book and stood in line for a short chat with, and an autograph from, a young man that took the better part of two years assembling a tribute to America's military men and women. I introduced myself and thanked him for his work and time on that day. He smiled, then immediately asked if I was a veteran. "Yes, two times over" I replied. "Desert Storm?" he asked. "Yes, and Kosovo as well."

Without a word, he began writing an inscription inside the book. To paraphrase, he thanked me for my service. He then asked me to send any letters I had to his foundation, as he was looking to publish a postscript of sorts, free on the web.

I suddenly remembered that tucked away somewhere, I have a shoebox full of letters my grandfather sent home from World War II. Andrew looked at me in total amazement, politely asking that I peruse the letters and consider sending him one or two. No originals, copies only please.

I walked away, stunned. I hadn't thought of my grandfather in some time, and a sad smile began to form on my face. You see, my grandfather has been gone for some years now, laid to rest next to his wife of over fifty years. I could not attend his funeral, as I was busy doing something with the Army, certainly trivial by comparison to my grandfather's burial. He was a good man and a good father, making his living as an apple farmer after over two years in Europe fighting for the rights, survival, and continued existence of others whom he had not known and would never meet.

When I came home this afternoon there was a box laying at my door. From my stepfather; I could not imagine what it would be. He and my mother are in the middle of a divorce. Curious, I took the box inside and opened it, almost without thought. What I saw inside stopped me in my tracks -- Old Glory, the very one they laid my grandfather to rest under. Tucked inside was a 7.62 blank cartridge, one of the 21 they fired in his honor before taps floated above a summer Ohio breeze.

Some time ago I had asked my mother what happened to the flag. I was not there to see as it was folded by the local VFW Honor Guard. She said she would check. Today it arrived, reminding me of the God-fearing devout husband and unquestioning patriot of a man that was my grandfather.

God rest ya Pops - I'll be thinking about you as I read the letters of your brothers-in-arms.

gadget6