Watered Down Dreams

 

I never was a person who had a clear plan for my life. As a child, I wanted to be a “Mouseketeer” or a pretty lady who rode on a 4th of July float in the parade. One of these dreams came true. Wanna guess which one? That’s right. At eighteen I wore a white flowing gown on a float filled with live petunias that attracted bees. There I was a Greek Goddess standing by a garden trellis swatting away the little buggers, but nobody said portraying a goddess would be easy.

In high school, I wanted to sing on Broadway. My other option was to write a best seller. Guess which one of these two came true. Well, the answer is none. I did sing in a local choral group and many times got the solos; and I did write seven novels, all of them published, but none of them has become a best seller. Yet.

When I got a little older, I decided I wanted to marry a good, kind man. The first one didn’t work out, but on the second try I’m happy to say I found one. Ken and I had four or five fun-filled years–two years of dating and another three before he got sick. I dreamed we’d sail into the sunset and travel in retirement, but that can’t happen because he’s too weak to even travel to Chicago these days.

People applaud me for my efforts, but I don’t feel worry of their praise. In my mind, reality has watered down my dreams and I feel like I missed the boat of what I really wanted to achieve. So like a harnessed plow horse, I keep plugging away. I realize most of my good years are in the rear view mirror, and as I gaze ahead I wonder what is next.

These thoughts haunt me because Ken had a terrible weekend. I had to call the fire department three times to have the men pick him up from the floor. He even toppled over in the garage, hitting his head on the pavement. A quick forming lump and a bit of blood freaked me out. The good news is — it was just a bump.

Such episodes make me feel inadequate in the caregiver department. Nobody signs up for this situation. It just happens, and I suppose when you find yourself in such a place, one does get to the point when life is too heavy. Love you have for the person for whom you are caring wanes even when it’s the last thing you want to do. When the person needing help is a spouse, the dynamics of the marriage change forever. And always being in the shadow of another brings darkness, doesn’t it?

I’ll search for the light, but seeing I don’t know what direction to search, it will take me some time. Eventually I’ll have enough information to make a good decision for him and for me, and it’s coming sooner than later.

Until then, I’m sending you a couple more chapters of the second edition of Apple Pie and Strudel Girls. We’re nearing the end, so stay with me.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 9

Naples, Italy – March—Josie found working in the wards satisfying in a different way; instead of the excitement of the operating room, she found her nurturing side as she helped wounded soldiers make the journey back to health. By the end of March the weather turned pleasant enough to wheel her patients outside to enjoy the sunshine. Somehow the outdoors lifted their depressed spirits better than any medication in a syringe or a bottle. Mario especially looked forward to his time with Josie. He healed enough to get out of bed and walk short distances with a cane, but he would never be fit for combat again.

The more time he spent with Josie, he confirmed to himself he didn’t want to live without her in his life. She, on the other hand, didn’t show she might be ready to listen to his serious intentions. For the time being, he stayed satisfied to admit she prevailed as the checkers champ, while he taught her the finer points of poker.

As Josie finished her shift, she picked up her mail and discovered she received three letters. One from Anna, Johnny, and Rosalie. After months of not getting any mail at all. Josie almost skipped to her quarters to read the news from her friends.

Dear Josie,

Hope this letter finds you with your “head down.” A rumor circled around the camp a field evac center in Italy got bombed. Please, if you’re reading this letter, write to me as soon as you can so I can relax.

Since we last met, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.  Our pilot got lost in a storm and crashed somewhere in Albania behind German lines. I got stranded with four wounded patients and only one corpsman. The pilot died in the crash. I thought about you during those first minutes, asking myself, “What would Josie do?” And I got my answer right away. Josie would pray. So I did. Yes–this kid finally believes.

In a couple of minutes, my prayer seemed to be fast-tracked. A band of Albanian resistance fighters came to our rescue, although at the time, I thought I might be a goner. The leader called himself Jack. I wish I could send you a picture. A colorful turban hid Jack’s long grimy hair. His face sported, a full scraggly beard, and he dressed like something straight out of an Allie-Baba movie. His body odor was ripe. I don’t think he bathed in a month, but he turned out to be our guardian angel. Through his knowledge of the area and his cleverness to solve problems along the way, we walked eight hundred miles through mountain wilderness back to our lines.

This is an adventure I never want to repeat. The good news is everyone lived. No fatalities. Everyone suffered frostbite. Mike, my corpsman lost a couple of toes, and he developed pneumonia. I kept trotting from a bad case of dysentery.  A month later I returned to the air. Most people think I’m crazy not to ask for a transfer.

For my efforts, I received a raise and a promotion to First Lieutenant. I suppose you’re a general by now, but pretend to be impressed, okay? (Ha,ha) I never acquired the knack of out-performing you, but I hope this experience at least ties with your escapades.

Write soon if you can, and I’ll look forward to meeting you again in peace time. Sending you my love and respect,

 Your friend, Anna

As Josie read Anna’s tale, she didn’t think she possessed the strength or fortitude to make such a horrendous journey. Walking eight hundred miles through the snowy mountains seemed impossible.  Josie considered herself a tomboy, but Anna proved she always had more gas in her tank than Josie ever did. What a story! She looked forward to sharing Anna’s letter with Mario who bragged about walking the length of Italy.

She opened Rosalie’s letter next.

Dear Josie,

 Here I am in the safety of my home with two beautiful babies. (I’m sending you a new picture to brag a little). If you came home for Christmas, I’d be as happy as a pig in slop. (Can you tell your Dad has rubbed off on me?)

My good mood got a boost when I found Angelo on my doorstep. He returned home just before Christmas with a medical discharge. He got severely burned and wounded on a Pacific Island. (I can’t tell you where because of the censors.) Angelo suffered so much. For awhile the doctors only gave him a thirty percent chance he would live because he stayed in a coma for weeks after surgery. He lay on a field hospital cot for weeks because the air strip needed to be completed before they could send him to a better hospital.

The most amazing thing happened to him while he lay asleep. Angelo told me he went to a quiet, peaceful place during those two weeks. He recalled he jumped on the wings of a butterfly and flew home to check on me and the babies. He also said he saw Tony again. They laughed together, but then Tony told Angelo his time with him expired because I needed him at home. After Tony walked away from him, Angelo woke up.  Isn’t that incredible?

When Angelo saw the Blue Star flag I hung in the front window, he cried. Then I showed him the scrapbook of stories I cut out of the newspaper about his unit.  We made up a silly ceremony and retired the banner laying it to rest in my war scrapbook. We put both in the attic, hoping never to go through such a long separation again.

Angelo’s walks with a cane, and he still suffers terrible pain in his leg, but he’s still my sweet Angelo. He’s so proud of our kids and spoils them rotten. Even though they are so small, I can tell they love having their Daddy home again.

Angelo’s boss gave him his job back, but instead of doing all the hard labor, he made Angelo a foreman. He got a big pay raise because the factory received a huge government contract. It’s such a relief to not worry about money. I really got scared I might lose our house, but Donna chipped in rent money, and we muddled through together. She’s such a doll. I really miss her.

 Besides bringing home a bum leg and a lot of scars, Angelo brought home his young friend Bobby. Honestly Josie, he’s just a kid. He enlisted in the Marines at sixteen years old! Can you imagine that? He’s living upstairs in Donna’s old room for the time being. He tells everybody he found his feminine side because he sleeps a pink bedroom. (ha, ha)

Bobby never experienced a loving family before and I think Angelo believes God sent him a little brother to help ease the loss of Tony. He’s a decent kid, and he loves little Angelo. He calls him “AJ,” and I think the new nickname will stick.

Things are almost back to normal, except for rationing, air raid practices, and blackouts, of course. (ha, ha)

I miss you and Donna so much. I hope you’ll come home REAL soon.

 Love you always,

Rosie

After Josie finished reading Rosalie’s letter, she thought about her role as a wife of a veteran and a mother of two babies. Sweet Rosie. She’s a veteran, but she’ll never get any credit for her contribution to the war effort. No one will give her a medal for the personal hardship and loneliness she endured. And no one will honor her for having a baby without her husband standing by. She sacrificed as much as any of us. Josie sighed and picked up the letter from Johnny. She hoped he completed his thirty-five missions and went home.

Dear Josie,

Hi, kid! Hope you’re up to no good for a change, but somehow I doubt it. You’re the type who makes up sins when you go to confession. 

Things here are stepping up. The new planes are a dream and our new Captain is crazier than my old friend Graham. I fly as Baker’s wing man and we’re a winning combination.

When Alistair and Graham died in combat, I never thought I would fly with anybody with the same talent, but the Captain gives Graham a run for his money. He challenges me every day.

We finally own the skies over Europe and are pounding the hell out of the Krauts. Turnabout is fair play, right? I believe this war is coming to a painful climax–like when you get a pimple and the damn thing needs to be squeezed. (ha, ha)

At least I hope so. I’m weary of flying mission after mission and wondering who will come back . . . the worst part is, not knowing the fate of the fliers –are they dead or POWs? Rumors of German prison conditions make me think the better choice of the two is death.

I want to tell you some good news and bad news. Mary and I broke off our engagement. Being separated for three years took its toll on both of us. I got close to Alistair’s widow, and Mary admitted she didn’t feel the same about me either.

The more Katie and I wrote and the few times we saw each other developed into something serious. I didn’t plan this. But Katie is beautiful and smart, and someday soon, we’ll marry before the war is over so I can take her home with me after the Krauts surrender.

You’ll never guess what I found in a pub last week. Peter! He’s part of a million other “yanks.” You can imagine how much fun we got out of sharing a couple of beers together, although, I can say one thing-I’ll be glad when I get home and drink a COLD beer-these crazy Brits drink their pints of “bitter” warm. As long as I live, I’ll never get used to that.

Well, that’s all the news. Hope you’re safe and well.

Love,

Johnny

Josie reread each letter before she put all the letters in the cigar box where she kept all her correspondence. She realized a common thread ran through all of the letters. The war changed everybody, but somehow life goes on. She heart broke for Mary because being Johnny’s fiancé meant something very special to her.  Josie realized even the best relationship gets tough when it must endure a long separation. Rosalie’s letter once again showed a lively spark which disappeared after Angelo left. Thank God he made it home. The two of them should enjoy a long happy life together; after all they loved each other since freshman year in high school.

The letters did more for Josie’s spirits than any counseling session. She planned to share her news from home with Mario because he enjoyed hearing stories about her friends. Josie told him so much about about Rosalie, Angelo, and Donna he considered them an extended family.

Her assignment in the convalescent wards brought Josie and Mario close. He cajoled her and she bantered back. They laughed together, and once in a while shared a tender moment of silence. When he told her he never would face combat again, she rejoiced. Lately, she didn’t want to think of living without him in her life.

Chapter 10

Normandy, France-June—Peter and millions of other American boys realized the invasion of Europe couldn’t be far off. As they went through daily drills, a crusty sergeant made sure his men understood there were no rules in combat. As they crawled on their bellies under barbed wire, the sergeant yelled. “If you get a chance to kill a Kraut by shooting him in the back, you shoot. If you can blow him up with a grenade, throw the grenade. If you can kill him with a bayonet, you stab him. You kill the son-of-a-bitch the quickest and most effective way you can. If you don’t, I guarantee you won’t live to tell the story. Remember this: The enemy’s main desire is to kill YOU!”

Every day and every training session the drill sergeants yelled such words of wisdom to toughen up the troops. As the soldiers practiced climbing ropes, the sergeant drilled them. “Jerry will trick and cheat you. There are no ethics in war, boys. If you don’t beat Jerry at his own game, you won’t live to appreciate your own nobleness.”

As Peter drilled and practiced his role in the upcoming invasion, he wondered if he could really kill anyone. As a child, he learned in catechism class “Thou shall not kill.”  He understood killing was a sin. Killing puts you in prison. But now he found himself with a rifle in his hand surrounded by people who expected him to use it.

One day, he got enough nerve to ask his sergeant about his dilemma. The crusty drill sergeant recognized Peter struggled. “Kid. Listen. I won’t say this twice. You are not a killer. We are here to do a job. Our superiors expect success. We must give one hundred and ten percent all of the time. Nothing but your best effort is required. Any man who witnesses and sniffs the ugliness of war wants no more of it–GUARANTEED.  Don’t believe anyone who says war is glorious. The truth is exactly the opposite. War is grimy, dusty, noisy, and disgusting. Once you come under fire, you’ll witness unbelievable sights. Believe me, the only guys picking fights after this war, will be the cowards who want others to think they were tough combat men. When the truth is, they peed their pants the minute a bullet whizzed by ’em. Believe me, private, the surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry. You mark my words.”

After listening to the sergeant ‘s war philosophies day in and day out, Peter accepted his logic. Americans got permission to shoot the enemy because they didn’t start this fight. The Germans did. But by god, the allies planned to finish it.

Peter just wanted to get the invasion over, so he could enjoy his Mom’s good cooking and run the farm again with his dad. He never thought going home again would be so important to him.

*****

On June 4th orders came down the chain of command the invasion would commence at 0300 hours. Peter and his buddies dressed in their combat gear and waited on deck for the order to disembark. The ship rolled so much in the heavy surf; standing upright on the deck proved to be nearly impossible. The sky stayed black even after sun-up. Rain pelted down like a fire hose sprayed them at a close distance. But no one thought bad weather might prevent the biggest invasion in history.

The high swells in the English Channel bounced the Higgins boats like bathtub toys. GIs became so violently sick before getting to shore they didn’t stand a chance facing an enemy as savvy as the Germans. After the brass witnessed a few futile attempts to get the boats ashore, they called off the invasion.

The storm on June 4th turned out to be the worst storm in the area for over one hundred years, and Peter and his crew returned to port, cold, wet and even more anxious than when they woke that morning.

*****

Two days later, the weather cleared, and the seas calmed enough to go forward with the invasion. The soldiers climbed down the ropes to the waiting landing craft boats in the dark. The men crunched together while they kept their heads down to avoid the bullets whizzing by them. Small subs slithered through the seas to protect the landing craft. Large balloons shaped like blimps hovered over the LCVPs to protect the men from German Stuka bombers diving and strafing them.

As the boats got closer to the beach, the Germans knocked out the balloons with rapid fire. Peter cut the cable to the balloon with bullets skimming his head; he belly-flopped into the pile of men in the bottom of the boat. Lying on his back, Peter gazed at a flock of barrage balloons filling the sky. In a strange way, he felt like a kid at the country fair who just lost his helium balloon.

The battleships behind the landing crafts fired shells from their fifteen-inch guns over the heads of the men in the smaller boats. Every once in a while a huge explosion erupted, and the men in the landing boats realized an American battleship successfully hit one of the Kraut’s ammo dumps. Peter’s throat grew dry and constricted. He couldn’t  utter a sound. His heart pounded in his ears and  his pulse raised.

Everyone stared ahead too afraid this might be the end. No one spoke.

Peter silently prayed. “Please, Lord let me get to the beach. Help me live through this.”

The ramps dropped and Sergeant Castle let his team into the waist-high water. The fifty pound backpacks pulled many of the smaller guys down into the sea. Some sunk like rocks, as rip currents pulled them out into the ocean drowning many of them. Sharp iron anti-boat rails impaled others as they jumped into the water.

Disregarding his personal danger, Peter pulled man after man onto the beach. He returned to the surf again and again to help floundering comrades.

Pillboxes and concrete bunkers six-feet thick lined the coast above the beach. Machine guns rat-ta-tat accompanied the screams of dying men. Larger guns shot shell after shell at the landing crews. The concussion of the shells knocked floundering men off their field. Grenades fell on the Americans who made it to the beach and waited for the rest of their units at the base of the bluff. Herr Rommel had done his best to deter an Allied invasion. But the Americans pushed on. The mission was to take control of the beach and surrounding area.

Confusion and agony covered the men on Omaha beach. The ear-splitting barrage of bullets and shells exploding deafened the landing soldiers. The infantry quickly found out the earlier naval gunfire and pre-landing air bombardments did nothing to softened German defenses. If men didn’t fall dead from bombs or bullets, a mine buried on the beach might do the job.

Shells whined over each wave of troops attempting to land. Great splashes erupted as they exploded in the water. Peter ran to the beach pumping his legs on the wet sand. He fell on his belly on the cold gravel beach. With so many bullets, shrapnel fragments, and explosions all around him, he touched his leg and arm to assure he remained alive. Then he fought to get to his feet firing his weapon blindly as he advanced.

The nightmarish scene didn’t seem real. The sea turned redder as the battle went on. Dead men lay where they dropped, and because Peter saved three men from drowning, he got separated from his unit. Through the fire and smoke, he scanned the beach for his sergeant. He yelled his name again and again, but received no answer. Screams of wounded men and exploding shells drowned out his shouts. Mayhem prevailed. With every step, Peter prayed. “God be with me. God be with me. Please don’t let me die here! I want to go home. I want to go home. Please Lord, be with me.”

As he moved forward a searing pain ripped through Peter’s belly. Blood oozed out a wound which nearly cut him in half. He gasped from the pain and collapsed. He put pressure on his wound and crawled behind a corpse. He said one more prayer and passed out.

Peter lay unconscious while a medic packed his wounds with gauze dressings and gave him a shot of morphine. The eighteen year old opened his eyes for a second to stare at a grimy face with a wide handlebar mustached say, “You’ll be okay mate. The worst part will be when we move ya.”

Corpsmen lifted Peter onto a stretcher and ran to a waiting LCVP which ferried the wounded to the off-shore hospital ships. The wounded men needed to be transferred from the Higgins boats to the hospital ship by hand. The men lifting the wounded needed to keep the stretcher level hoisting their patient over their heads or the patient would slip off the stretcher into the icy waters of the Channel. Choppy seas and exploding shells made the transfers a monumental task.

Once aboard the hospital ship, medical personnel triaged the wounded men. Peter lost a tremendous amount of blood so his critical condition moved him to the head of the queue for surgery. Nurses worked furiously to keep him alive until the doctors brought him into surgery. Finding veins to start IV’s in both arms for the plasma and saline proved to be difficult, but after injections of penicillin and morphine, Peter lay semi-conscious as medical personnel buzzed around him.

He listened to a doctor say, “We’re going to put you to sleep, now son.”

Peter tried to nod but blinking his eyes turned out to be the only movement he could make. The doctor put a rubber mask over his face and the effect of the drug put him into a deep sleep. He drifted into a quiet zone. No more bombs exploding. No more bullets ripping through flesh. No more pain. No more screaming. He traveled to a very white and peaceful place. A sense of calm washed over him. He loved the silence. Then a familiar person walked toward him.  Tony Armani held out his arms to embrace Peter. “Hey old, buddy. Good to see you again.”

Peter stared at his brother’s old friend. “Where are we, Tony?”

“Some people call this place heaven. Come on. I want you to meet some other guys.” Tony put his arm around Peter’s shoulder, and they walked toward a bright light together. ”

 

 

 

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