War and peace
(and our shared humanity)
Search the world over, my friends. You'll never find a portrait quite like the one above.
Yes, I have my “favorites” among Hometown Stories. The following story would certainly rank near the top.
And when you are done reading it, my friends, I am hopeful that you might feel much the same.
In World War II on D-Day, Dad landed under heavy fire on a beach in Normandy, France. Yes, just like in the movie, Saving Private Ryan - but in real life. (If you’ve never seen the movie, then watch at least the first twenty minutes. You will understand. At least. A little.)
Dad never told me much about that part - the beach landing. The closest he ever came to talking about it was when he came home from work one day and found me playing “Army” in the woods at age nine.
My rifle was a stick. I made sure Dad saw me charging up a hill while shouting over at him with exuberant glee, “I’m killin’ Nazis!”
Dad looked sad. (I should note here that Dad rarely looked sad, as he did that day - as he did in the portrait above. I knew him as largely a very jolly and jovial man). So I stopped and walked over to him.
Dad took me aside and told me, “Benny, it’s never any fun when you kill another human being. Somebody’s son or husband. Or somebody’s daddy. Now I’d be proud if you become a soldier someday. Very proud. But you know what? I’d be even more proud if you become a peacemaker.”
As Forrest Gump might say, “That was all Dad had to say about that.”
But Dad did go on to tell me more regarding the unique portrait above.
Though that didn’t happen until I was age twenty-six, some forty years after the portrait was painted. I had just happened to come across it, rolled up in the old homeplace attic (I later had it professionally stretched and framed).
Wide-eyed at my discovery, I went straight to Dad. “Please tell me about this.”
Like virtually all soldiers who have seen the horrors of war face-to-face, Dad hesitated to tell me about it. Then he said, “I’ll tell you one time. But just this once. So try to remember.”
Dad didn’t talk long about the portrait. As best I can recall, I will convey his words here. I know he didn’t say much. And I respected his request to not ask him about it ever again.