Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veteran's Day

His tired, pale blue eyes, focused on a fading memory, slowly lowered back down to me. Almost immediately, the remembered pain faded from his face to be replaced with the mischevious grin he reserved for his grandchildren. It was early yet and dawn was still more than an hour away when I was awakened by the smell of eggs, bacon, grits and the ever-present "cig-er-REET" smoldering between his loosely-curled fingers. Unlike with my other grandfather, who preferred to be alone with his thoughts during the early morning hours, my maternal grandfather always welcomed company and conversation.

The ghosts of the aging WWII veteran's past would come to haunt the silences and fill his head with the sounds of shouted commands, gunfire and the cries of the wounded and dying. Their voices still rang sharply in his ears, and refused to fade despite the intervening years. Some men would allow themselves to become embittered by such experiences, but not my grandfather. Albert "Pete" Pitre choose to exorcise his past with a restless urge for the present. Always active, always involved, always living and loving each moment that remained with a stubborn refusal to slow down, he strove to fill his waking moments with friends, family and constant activity.

There were stories of the war, of course. But the real tales were never told. They lingered in the dimming of his eyes and struggled against the razor-wire he had left on the beachheads of his memory. We only heard of the things that didn't reopen old wounds long scarred over. There was no hint of regret in his voice. He did what he had to do when the need arose and served his country with honor.

The padding of my feet into the kitchen where he sat, long ash drooping under its own weight at the end of his Lucky Strike, served as a welcome Reveillé to awaken him from dreams of D-Day. He looked down at me for a moment before recognition came and reminded him that his efforts had not been in vain. And then there came the smile.


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