Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Time Therapy

Sgt Bernie Goulet, Spring, 1951

He sat before me, remembering.

"I was 19 back then.  Too long ago.  You know, there were some things you never forget.  One of them was my company commander, Capt Harold Willecke.  Great guy.   Somehow he took me under his wing - my mentor.  Showed me the ropes, how to fight.  We were pretty effective, had plenty of successful engagements against the enemy."

As the surrounding conversation became muted by his hearing aides, his eyes, twinkling and animated, were fixed on me as he continued. 

"There was one time with Willecke I'll never forget.  We were pinned down, the Chinese advancing all around us.  Staying put was certain slaughter.  Willecke knew we had to move, but most of us were too scared.  Willecke wouldn't have any of it!  He got up and started running, gun blazing.  I followed right behind.  His actions got the whole group of us going.  But he never saw the hidden bunker to his right.  I saw a three or four shots from a burp gun rip across his chest.  The thing about a burp gun is it's not as powerful as a machine gun.  If it had been a machine gun, the rounds probably would have gone through him and hit me.  He fell forward face-first right in front of me.  I heard just a slight groan, then a few kicks of his legs, then nothing."

He paused as it became difficult to speak.  His lower eyelids welled up with tears as the memory was replayed as though it was yesterday. 

"Then we had to get up and keep going.  Poor guy.  I ran right by him and saw him motionless.  Nothing I could do.  Damn it." 

He paused again to regain his composure.  After a moment, ignoring all of the other conversations underway around the Memorial Day picnic table, be continued.

"Hey, you know what my son did?"

I shook my head, "no."

Bernie Goulet, Memorial Day 2012
"He took me to his grave.  Not too far from here - near O'Hare airport.  And you know what? "  He slowed his delivery, as though to build suspense while emphasizing his newly-realized epiphany.  "The damn thing... it... was... so... OLD!  I couldn't believe it.  There it was: the headstone was neatly kept, mind you, and it wasn't a typical military style headstone - his name was there with a nice brass engraving.  But the grave itself looked so old.   I guess I shouldn't have expected anything different, sixty years later and all.   But that wasn't how I pictured it would be.  It was hard to believe that that was him.  It was something.  But there was something helpful about seeing that.  A bit less survivor's guilt.  Really.  It helped. "

Then suddenly, the present day returned as his daughter's voice broke through:

"Hey Bernie, try some of this cheese I brought or maybe a little of this wine?"


PS:  Bernie's photo collection, courtesy of the Lincoln Library. 


Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Thank you for this.

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Here's my Memorial Day blog post:

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."

– Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

Dennis said...

"That strange feeling we had in the war.
Have you found anything in your lives since to equal it in strength?
A sort of splendid carelessness it was, holding us together." -Noel Coward