My genius guidance counselor messed up my schedule leaving me two credits short for graduation. Thornhill’s journalism course is my only choice, so I take it, but I’m pissed. I don’t like news, or writing, or Thornhill.
Second class, Thornhill says, “Listen-up. Veterans’ Day is November 11th and…” The rest of his words are a lot of blah-blah about the power of story. Who cares? And where the hell do you ‘get’ a live World War II veteran to interview anyway? I want to strangle my frickin’ guidance counselor.
That evening, Dad says, “V.F.W. post has live veterans. Your grandfather is a member. He can introduce you to some of the old guys.”
“Old guys? You mean mummies.”
“Stop whining. Call your grandfather.”
I want to snap back but I need some cash for the weekend so I pull out my phone instead. A quick conversation and I’m set with Gramps.
For lawn decoration, V.F.W. Post 417 has a tank, and a weird wooden soldier that looks like a life-sized Ewok in uniform.
“What’s with that soldier statue?” I ask.
“Charlie Jay, the chainsaw artist, made it. Thing was supposed to be a bear cub on its hind legs. The saw slipped. Sorta looks like a one of them troll dolls in uniform, huh? Charlie donated it. Can’t say no to a chainsaw guy.”
“Ohhh-kaaay,” I mutter, as we cross the parking lot.
Inside the building, Gramps hustles me over to a small booth. Sitting alone is one mummy-looking guy—with buzzed-cut white hair—staring at a Pabst Blue Ribbon can and a bowl of pretzels. Introductions are made then my grandfather heads for the bar. I slide in opposite Fred Logan, and put my recorder on the table between us.
“Thanks, Mr. Logan, it’s great…” I start, but he interrupts. “Look, Jerry, there’s one word for war,” he says, then holds up his fingers in air quotes, “stupid.” He pauses, then says, “I mean, Christ, today, the Krauts and Japs are our friends. Stupid. Call me Frank. I’m talking to you because your grandfather’s a class act.”
“Uh…it’s Jordan, not Jerry. Okay…stupid…got it. I just need one war story, that’s it,” I say turning on the recorder
Frank studies me. I study Frank. “How old are you?” he asks.
“Almost eighteen, why?”
“What do you know about World War II?”
“Not much. History isn’t my thing.”
“Yeah, not mine, either, until I landed in it. Turned eighteen in London right before D-Day. Celebrated at a pub with my pal, Brownie. We called him that ‘cause he was small like one of them little people in fairy tales. Built good, just not much of him. Anyway, it turns out the Brits don’t like us much. Thought Americans were, you know, upstarts.”
“Really? I heard we were allies.”
Frank leans into the table. “Listen, smart guy, history books leave stuff out. They hated us ‘cause all the English tootsies fell for Yanks.” He sticks a finger in the pretzels and pushes them around. “Anyway,” he says, “at the pub it’s all friendly on the surface but tense underneath. Too many cocky, boozed-up guys all nervous, and mouthy.
“Brownie was sweet-talking a waitress when some Brit bumps his shoulder and says, ‘S’cuse me, Yank, didn’t see ya’ down there.’ I think, Christ, we’re cooked. Brownie is Irish, see, despises Brits on principle. Always called ‘em ‘Limey’ whenever he could. Brit makes a crack about his size, look out.
“So, Brownie hollers, ‘Hey, you Limey asshole,’ and kicks the guy in the shin. ‘Better down here, now,’ he says. Place is dead silent…then, wham. His majesty’s finest grabs Brownie and off to the races. Whole joint squares off. Fists fly. Waitresses scream. It’s a goddamn free-for-all. I’m thinking, shit, I’m gonna die in a stinking bar on my way to the war. When Brownie goes down, I head for the exit.”
“You left Brownie? That’s cold,” I say, and lean away from the table.
“Naw, I didn’t leave him. ‘Brownie went down’ means he dropped to the floor and crawled under the flying bodies. I followed him. We got to the door then ran like racehorses just as the MPs arrived. Weren’t no heroes but we sure got laughs telling the tale.”
I’m thinking, holy shit, just my dumb luck. Need a war story, get a bar brawl. So I say, “Uh, Frank? My grandfather said you were in some big battle and got a medal.”
“Oh, yea, almost forgot.” He leans back, and pulls a small leather case out of his pants’ pocket.
Opening the lid, Frank puts the box on the table. I pick it up. On white satin sits a bronze cross with an eagle in the center and the words, ‘For Valor’ engraved on a tiny scroll.
“Wow,” I say. “Sweet.”
“Distinguished Service Cross. Killed a lot of Krauts at a village called Bastogne. More of them than us. What a mess. Kiddo, just remember, no matter what side you’re on, being a combat hero is all about getting your ass out in one piece, even it means killing everything in sight. It’s the Brownie story that matters.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Listen, in war, somebody fires at you, you fire back. I had a machine gun. No valor, just reaction. Getting out of a bar brawl in one piece without hurting anyone because you stick by a mouthy, bonehead friend who likes to fight — well, that’s valor. Think about it.”
Frank eats a pretzel, gulps his beer, and slides out of the booth. We’re done. I hand back the medal and stick the recorder in my pocket. Collecting my grandfather from the bar, we head out. Once in the car, I start texting.
“Kids,” Gramps mutters, “not even a hero beats technology.”
“Breaking a date,” I say, without looking up, “and she’s gorgeous.” Glancing at him, I wink, then add, “Thought tonight, I’d interview you about ‘Nam. Did I ever tell you about Thornhill?”
JB Smith is a freelance writer. Her fiction has appeared in various online and print publications.
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