A Season in Hell

Love and Death in the Vietnam War

I am an old man, both of my wives have passed away but I am not alone and I am not neglected. My son and a grandson run the farm now with their wives and children. We all live together in this big, century-old farm house. A couple of my  children left the farm to find their careers elsewhere but  they visit often enough.

A couple of times a week the Mennonite preacher, Klaus comes by to talk with me. He is about my age. I am not a Mennonite but both of my wives were. Over the years he and I have established a friendship but I never wanted to join his congregation. I am not a religious person but he is a learned man and something of a philosopher. I enjoy talking with him.

he is a history buff and is curious about the Vietnam War. He knows that I and my first wife were there. For years I refused to talk about the war with him. It was a long time before I could talk to anyone about the war and the death of my first wife. Now it has been so long ago that I can talk about it. I find that talking about  this with Klaus wakes me up a little to the life I had a long time ago.

Now Klaus is advising me to write about mine and Anke’s experience in the war.

My first reaction was “Absolutely Not” .

” Klaus”, I said,” First of all, I am not a writer. Secondly I don’t want to bring up painful memories again. You remember that Anke died there don’t you?”.

“I do indeed. She was a member of my congregation before she went to Vietnam but that  was a long time ago, John.”

“If I wrote about it now  I know it would just be as painful as it was then.”

He said “Some kinds of pain need to be accepted”

“Both your wives, Anke and her sister, were extraordinary women. Your children and grandchildren deserve to know how extraordinary they were.  Think of it as a family history. Your children and grand children might profit from knowing their  grandparents a little bit better”

“As for the writing, No one is born a writer. It is a craft that you must learn.  I feel confident that you can learn what you need to know”.

“I have written a few books on subjects that would not interest you, but I can tell you what I learned about writing in general. I think a writer must be honest and courageous and  must also tell the story in the fewest words possible.

You are a reader and that is the best training to become a writer.  I found that when I finally understood what I wanted to say in my books, the books almost wrote themselves.”

I said “I had no idea you wrote books.”

“My works are not widely read outside the Mennonite community. Even there they are mostly read by the clergy. A hell bent unbeliever like you would have no reason to know about my books.”

All week I thought about what he said.

I don’t read the newspaper very often and I discarded the television years ago but I do  know that as a country we have not learned. There are still wars we fight for dishonorable reasons.

I have a grandson who is thinking about joining the Marines. He has a grandfather, me, who wears a Silver Star under his shirt where no one can see.  The star was engraved by his grandmother on the day before her death.

He never knew her. I have to fix that.

The boy is about the same age as I was when I enlisted for Vietnam.  He is like me at that age.  He is strong and as  Klaus might say, hellbent like I was then.

Klaus is right. I will try to dissuade the boy with the story of his grandparents. He may be old enough to understand.

Not knowing what I had ahead of me, I turned on the computer and started to type.

The bugler in his dress blues played Taps over the government supplied coffin. Inside there were pieces of Arnold. The pieces had been gathered together and tossed hurriedly into a zippered body bag. It may be that some of the pieces were not from Arnold and it is not certain that they found all of Arnold. It had been bloody and they had to jump on the helicopters as quickly as they arrived and leave under a hail of gunfire.

Except for the bugle it was quiet in the military cemetery in Ohio. Arnold’s family was there, his parents, his grandmother and a little sister. They were crying a little but they were almost cried out. There was a Marine chaplain who said a few words to them, the same words he would say to the next family.

The bugler finished and was leaving. The chaplain was also leaving. He and the bugler had come in the same car. They were a team.

There were two groundskeepers leaning on a small tractor, waiting at a respectful distance to push the dirt over Arnold’s grave.

A soldier who was wounded in the same firefight that killed Arnold was there on crutches. He had taken a bullet through his foot but he would be OK. He was the medic who put the pieces of Arnold in the body bag.

He was standing a little apart from the family. He was not crying. At twenty three years of age he had already seen too much to be able to cry easily.

He would have liked to say something comforting to the family but it was hard to find any comforting words that were true. He settled on ‘He did not suffer’ It was true. Arnold had been blown apart in an instant and his blood splattered on all the soldiers near him, but the friend did not tell that to the family.

Arnold was born to be a Marine. His father had been a Marine in the second world war. He had survived the battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal. He got a bronze star for his bravery there.

On returning home he became an alcoholic. He joined veteran’s organizations to drink and tell lies. Every time he told the story of Bloody Ridge the story changed until there was no more smoke, no more blood, no more screams of the wounded and the dying. But the death of his son brought everything back to him. Being drunk, he could not think of it clearly but he felt vaguely ashamed that he had told those lies to his boy.

The friend would be going back to Vietnam when he healed. He was not a patriot and he was not a hero but now Vietnam was the only place where he did not feel empty inside.

The Return

The Doctor says “If you don’t know why you are here  I will tell you. I am examining you to see if we can send you back to Vietnam… You had a rough time there?”

I nod my head.

He asks “What do you remember about it?”

I have to think a bit..

“The Ponchos…When there were no more body bags we wrapped the bodies in their rain ponchos, tied them up  and tossed them into the helicopter. We threw the empty ammunition cans on top of the bodies.”

I raised my head and looked at the doctor.” When you first wrap up a body so its guts will not leak out of the poncho, that is when you realize that you are not going to win”.

Lyndon Johnson might win or Ho Chi Minh might win, but there is no fucking way you are going to win.’

“How do you feel about the war? You came home with a silver star.”

“I don’t like it. I think it is a big mistake”

“The star or the war?”


The Doctor continues. ‘Then why are signing on for another tour of duty?’

‘I don’t know exactly. … I don’t belong here anymore.’

‘Why do you say that?’

“I have nightmares in my own house and wake my mother. I try to shrug it off with a laugh but she tiptoes around me. She sees that I am a wire stretched tight. She fears that I might snap… I fear that myself.”

“In ‘Nam I am living my nightmare and too busy to think about it. plenty of others there are living their own nightmares. We don’t share them but we do laugh about having them .The others can hear you anyway struggling and groaning in your personal hell. They will tease you.  If I could not laugh about it I would go crazy.”

“What if we sent you back to a desk job?”

“I would not go”.

Chu Lai

The plane to Vietnam was full of recruits and draftees. white, black, Mexican. There were not many Asians. Some recruits were solemn, some of them were wound up and noisy. I couldn’t look at them and I stuffed earplugs in my ears so I could not hear.

After processing in Saigon I reported to the hospital at Chu Lai. I waited there for them to assign me to a battalion in need of a medic. First I had to take a refresher course for returned medics. It took a few weeks.

Chu Lai is a coastal town with a big military airport as well as the hospital . There were a lot of soldiers, mostly non combatants, aircraft mechanics , hospital orderlies, nurses, staff officers and a few combat soldiers in town for some R&R with whisky and women.

It was supposed to be safe but the enemy was always close. some of the non combatants carried a sidearm. Nobody saluted because VC snipers waited for someone to identify an officer by saluting him.

I kicked around the beach in my spare time mixing with the off-duty nurses. Of course every GI in the sector was hitting on the nurses and I didn’t think I would get lucky there. But there were a lot of pretty Vietnamese whores in Chu Lai. They were controlled by the military and were checked every week for venereal disease. I spent some time with them.  It helped with the nightmares.

After a few days though I met a young nurse. We talked about why we were in Vietnam, what we wanted to do when this stupid war was over. We seemed to hit it off.

I ran into her occasionally in the halls of the hospital where I was finishing up the course and waiting for assignment. We spoke a little in passing.

One time I saw her in the hospital when there had been a big  fight just south of Chu Lai. She was meeting the choppers. There was some really ugly stuff coming out of the choppers but she was all business, running alongside the gurneys into the operating rooms and running out to return to the wounded and dying being unloaded from the next chopper. she was rigging blood transfusions for some, trying to stop the bleeding on others and administering morphine to those who needed it. She seemed to be serving two or three wounded soldiers at the same time. I watched for a long time. It brought back nightmare memories but I could not look away. Eventually all the casualties were taken care of. I looked around but did not see her.

I started back to my hootch when I saw her sitting alone at the end of an empty corridor.

I approached her quietly. She was crying , not sobbing, not making any sound at all, just big tears rolling down her cheeks. She was shaking a little. I sat beside her. she looked up briefly, saw me and said nothing. I said nothing. We both knew there was no use in talking about it.

She had worked for 12 hours in the noise, the blood and the death . Now in the silence she was exhausted but could not sleep. I understood the problem. We sat for a long time without talking. Then she dropped her head on my shoulder and fell asleep. There was no romance about it. She just dropped from exhaustion. I think I fell asleep too but I was awake before her. When she woke she looked at me, stood up and said ‘Thank you, I’m OK now.’ She bent and kissed my forehead lightly then walked away.

I had finished up my training course at the hospital. That same firefight had exploded into a full regimental offensive. They called it Operation Starlite. They said we were winning. They sent me there.


I arrived at Landing Zone Blue by helicopter along with some reinforcements. I didn’t know any of the men in the company I had been assigned  to.

There was a lot of firing further up the hill but nothing much going on  at the LZ.  I jumped out of the chopper with the others. They ran for cover even though no one was shooting at them. I saw the wounded in litters at the edge of the LZ and ran to them. I helped load them into the same chopper that brought me in.

Behind the wounded were a couple of body bags. I helped throw them in. I was told that the captain was in one of those bags. No one seemed to know where the first lieutenant was, probably up the hill in the middle of the fight. I jumped back on the chopper to do what I could for the seriously wounded while we pushed for the hospital at Chu Lai, a few miles away.

Normally the wounded would first be taken to the battalion aid station but in this case the battle going on was not far from the hospital so we were taking them directly there.

I saw her briefly as we unloaded the wounded. I think she saw me too.

After unloading the wounded the chopper went first to battalion HQ to pick up more soldiers, more water, and more ammunition, then back to LZ Blue.

Things there were hotter than before. The order was to take the hill behind the LZ.  Hill 43 they called it. The VC were entrenched on top and the fighting was heavy. There were more wounded at the LZ and many more on the hill, fighting, wounded or dead. The new troops jumped off the chopper and ran for cover under fire. The wounded we put on the chopper along with a couple of body bags. None of their wounds looked life threatening but some were in pain so I gave them  morphine to make the ride easier.

The chopper lifted off. I remained there. It was like I had never been away.

I found the lieutenant halfway up the hill and identified myself. He said ‘Doc,I  hope you know what you’re in for. Charlie is retreating but leaving snipers behind, Find a weapon, Stay low. there is plenty of work for you up higher.’

I was well below where the real fighting was going on so I spent the rest of the day and the night moving up, finding and tending to the wounded and getting them to the LZ for evacuation.  Early the next day the hill had been taken. The VC were gone and we were mopping up.

The lieutenant told me there were more of our dead up higher. Some had been killed by two shots to the head from a small caliber weapon. I had seen it before. Under the cover of night Charlie had been moving around killing our wounded, stripping their weapons, ammunition  and anything else of value.

In my first tour of duty I saw a lot of that from Americans as well as from the VC. But now there was a general order that we couldn’t do that anymore.  The order came from a general who had never been in combat. The order was widely disregarded.

Coming down to the  LZ I got careless and a VC kid who was supposed to be dead jumped up and popped me.  I was knocked off my feet and my helmet flew about thirty feet. The soldier walking beside me emptied a clip on the kid.

My wound proved to be a superficial scalp wound but it bled like hell. With the help of another medic we got the bleeding stopped.  My helmet had deflected the bullet just enough. My skull had not been cracked. I walked away with a concussion, a  really bad headache and a thank you to the guy who killed the kid before he could get off another shot.

I took a look at the kid.  He seemed to be twelve or thirteen years old. He had been chopped up into hamburger by the M-14  clip. The soldier shoved in another clip and sprayed the pile of Vietnamese bodies to make sure that nobody in the pile was still alive.

I was on the last chopper out of LZ Blue, a wounded soldier administering to other wounded soldiers on the way to Chu Lai hospital. the lieutenant was on the chopper to return to his platoon.  He said that he would not expect to see me for weeks until the wound was healed.

The wounded were being unloaded and moved to the  surgery.

I saw her there again. I didn’t think I was in much danger but I looked terrible with all the blood on my face and soaking my bandage. Scalp wounds are like that, they always bleed profusely. My clothes were black with dried blood and sweat. She was busy with the most seriously wounded but I saw her face change momentarily when she first saw me. Someone gave me morphine and I fell asleep.

When I woke up she was sleeping in a chair beside my bed. Someone had washed the blood off of my face and re-bandaged the wound.  There was a clean hospital gown hanging on the hook they used for transfusion bags.

Vietnam is a hell of a place to fall in love.

She woke up when I began to stir. She said ‘Let’s get you cleaned up.’ She left and a few minutes later returned with a basin of hot water, some anti bacterial soap and a sponge. She closed the curtain and began to bathe me from head to toe. It had been a long  time since I had felt the touch of a woman.

She  finished the clean up and said ‘My shift is coming up and I have to go now.’

This went on for a week or two. Almost  every day she would come to talk while she changed my bandage and bathed me before going on with her shift.  We would talk a little.

I was feeling better and the next time she came I asked her.

‘When can I get out of bed?’

‘When the doctor says so… Don’t be so eager to get shot again.

‘ Your visit is the highlight  of my day but the rest is boring me to death’.

‘I wouldn’t use that word too freely. You were about a quarter inch from being dead.’

We’ll probably get you on your feet in a week or so but it will be a lot longer for your wound to heal. No wound like that heals quickly in this climate.

By the time they let  you out you might be so bored that you would even ask a girl out for dinner’.

‘I ‘m sure I would. but I can’t ask a girl for a date if I don’t know her name.’

‘ Look at my ID tag. My name is Anke.’

‘That’s a pretty name but a bit unusual.’

‘Not where I come from.’

‘Where is that?

‘Ohio.  Why don’t we leave the details for dinner conversation’?’

I grew to like her more and more. she was pretty and she had a dry sense of humor but she also had something that the other pretty girls did not have and which I cannot describe.

I asked myself if I were falling in love. I told myself to be careful and think about it. Vietnam was not a good place to fall in love.

I did think it over and came up with no conclusions. we went on as before.

Finally the doctor said I could get up and walk a while.  I could go outside but I couldn’t go to the beach or get in the water.  There was some infection going around the hospital so the doctor thought that I was as safe outside the hospital as in.

She came to me after hearing the news. ‘About that date…’ she said.  ‘ Let’s go.  Let’s get you dressed and out of here before you are called into another fight.’

We left the hospital and strolled in the red dust toward an enlisted men’s bar and hamburger joint.  We were passing MamaSan’s whorehouse. A couple of the girls were out smoking in the shadow of the Quonset hut .  She looked at me with a playful smile.  ‘You ever visit MamaSan?’

‘Isn’t that kind of a personal question?’

‘Personal? she  asked with an air of innocence. ‘I have been bathing every square inch of your naked body every day for the past few weeks. Isn’t that sort of personal too?

‘OK, I see what you mean.  Yes, I’ve been to see MamaSan a couple of times since I got here.’ I confessed.

She said ‘ I like the girls.  I am the one who draws blood for their examinations.  If I weren’t with you they would smile and give me a little wave.’

We went inside the bar.  It was a Soul bar.  Mostly black troopers drank there and listened to rhythm and blues.  The rednecks had their own bar down the beach that played country music.

There were no other customers.  I asked for a cold beer and she had an icy lemonade. She had to tell the bartender not to put whiskey in it. That was the normal way it was sold in this bar.

He came back with the drinks. ‘ a dollar beer for the gentleman and I will buy the pretty woman a lemonade myself.’

She smiled and took the glass. ‘Thank You’

He was a large black man with a big smile showing a gold capped tooth.  ‘Soldier,where you been to find a woman like her?’


‘Don’t I know it.  Where did you get that haircut?’ pointing to my bandaged wound.

‘Same place, only an angel came to rescue me.’

‘we seldom have women of such beauty in our establishment. You are a lucky man.’

‘I have been so far.’

He left to serve some new customers.

‘Anke, tell me about yourself, your family.’

‘Mine? well it’s complicated. My family is a bit out of the ordinary.’

‘How so?’

We are Mennonites, at least they are.  I don’t know what I am any more.


‘Yes, I was born and raised on a farm a little south of Millersburg Ohio.’

Having grown up about 60 miles north of there I knew that it was in Amish country.  I asked ‘but you’re not Amish are you?’  I couldn’t imagine an Amish girl in the thick of the Vietnam war. For that matter I couldn’t imagine a Mennonite girl in the thick of the Vietnam war.

‘No she said’ but there are a lot of similarities in the two beliefs. Mennonites do not try to live in the seventeenth century. We have cars, electric lights, telephones. We could even have a television if we wanted one.   We can dress like the people in the world. We go to school, get jobs just like the people in the World. We can marry anyone we like but we can’t dance and we are not supposed to drink alcohol.’

Many Amish who can’t abide the restrictions of the Amish culture become Mennonites.

‘When I say ‘the World’ I mean people who are not like us. The Amish say the same thing. Sometimes they will say ‘The English’. Of course we all speak English  but a lot of us speak German at home.

‘My family is slowly pulling away from the church but not the culture. I may abandon the church but I will never abandon my family and their customs.’ After being there you will understand.’

how does she know I would ever be there?

‘How did you get here?’

‘Mennonite children are taught that pacifism, nonviolence and service to others are the highest virtues.  I was a nice little girl and believed this. As a matter of fact I still do, even after seeing what I have seen.

I wanted to do good works. Being a nurse makes my family and my friends at home proud of me. they think I’m brave.’

‘Vietnam was where most of the brutality was happening so I came here. She paused. ..’I knew that war was awful but I could not have imagined how awful it really is. For the first year I did not think I was going to make it.  But when I thought of leaving I found I could not turn away from the wounded boys I saw every day, boys like you.

‘It is hard to believe in a merciful God after you have gone where I have gone.’

‘Why me’ I asked. ‘What about you she asked?’

‘Well, you are beautiful .  I’m not. I have no God and no distinctions except a medal  they gave me in my first tour of duty. It means nothing. At the ceremony they discovered that they didn’t even have the medal there for me. They said they would send it to me. As coincidence would have it, they finally got it to me yesterday. I waived the ceremony and I have it in my pocket.’

I said ‘I know that the doctors in the hospital are all chasing you. I’ve heard them talking.’

‘They may be chasing but they haven’t caught me .’

‘Why me’ I asked again.

‘OK, it was when you found me crying in the hallway and I fell asleep on your shoulder.

‘I was only half asleep, the other half was thinking hard. I was trying to wash the blood and the death out of my memory. But I kept seeing the young faces of the boys who had been ripped apart by this war. Then I saw you. You did not speak but something told me that you were the one. both halves of me went into a peaceful sleep with your arm around my shoulders. I don’t know why.  I certainly wasn’t looking  for a man . I don’t want to make this a mystery but that’s how it happened.

‘A woman knows. At least this woman knew.’ ‘How about you?’

To be honest, being a man, my first thought  was sex.  After I saw you a few times though I watched you at your work.  I liked your style.  But it was your eyes that attracted me and the care you took of me sealed it. I don’t remember  when I realized I was in love with you.  I had never thought about being in love. It surprised me.  And of course I dreamed of sex.’

‘ I think we can fix that. ‘Can I see your medal?.’

‘Anke ,You can have my medal.  It means nothing to me  now and there is no one I could send it to who would understand or even care.’

‘It’s pretty. What is it called?’

‘A silver star.’

‘What does it mean?’

It means I killed a lot of people and maybe saved some other  people from being killed.  It required little courage on my part because it was the only way I could save myself. I got a bullet through my foot but I could not save my best friend.

‘Can I keep it?’

‘If you like but be careful. The VC like to shoot at medals.’.

‘Madeleine, the head nurse is a friend of mine. She has an apartment in officer’s quarters which is free tonight. She had to go to Cam Ranh Bay for some meetings.  She is happy that I have a boyfriend, So happy that she put a bottle of champagne in her fridge.’

Anke said ‘here’s a news release for you: Tonight I am going to give myself to you, body and soul. I may need some help because I haven’t done this before.

You mean…

Yes, I mean that I have never had a lover… and I have never had a glass of champagne.  What fun it will be to try both.

Anke, I am afraid about the future.

‘Who isn’t’?

‘I mean that I’ve never been in love  before.. It would be hard on me if you went away or got tired of me.’

‘ Of the two of us, you are the most likely  to get killed and that would likely ruin my day too.’  She was  smiling.

She placed the medal in the palm of my hand. Then she pressed her hand over mine. Her eyes got serious.’ What do they say in occasions like this ? Until death do us part? Don’t worry, I’m in for the long haul.’

I repeated ‘Until death do us part’. It has a completely different meaning in Vietnam than in front of the minister in your parlor at home, but we took it as official. We felt married.

She said ‘Everything happens quickly here or it does not happen at all. Let’s go lighter on the serious stuff. I am feeling a need for champagne.’

One glass later she was giggly. she came and sat down on my lap. ‘Do you realize that we have never  even shared a real kiss. I will take another little sip and we can try that too.

We tried that and immediately the mood changed. she pushed me back in my chair and started unbuttoning my shirt, giggling.

I am not going to go into details of the rest of the evening but will say both parties felt it was a success.

We both got back to our duties for a couple of weeks. We saw each other as much as we could. Madeleine proved a good friend and gave us her quarters when she could. I was finally released from the hospital. Then my orders  arrived.  I was to report to my unit which was still in Chu Lai.

They never tell where you’re going until after you start there,  but the Lieutenant hinted that we were bound for the central highlands. That meant that we might be patrolling up near the Cambodian border and keeping watch on the Ho Chi Min trail.  If so we might be up against the NVA. They are better trained and better equipped than the VC.  I was not looking forward to it.

In my first tour of duty I was up there.  It is where I got my star, lost my best friend, and acquired my nightmares.

The unit was moving now. I had to report in a few hours.  I went to the hospital. Things were slow there and I found her.  She looked at my orders. She went to see Madeleine and came back with the key.

We both said what we felt while slowly making love. We were more involved in the conversation than  the sex. She was afraid for me. There was nothing I could say to calm her fears because we both knew the score. I was a Marine in combat and I had already collected two Purple Hearts. She said ‘Please promise me you will not take unnecessary chances. Let someone else be the hero this time.

I said’ that’s not the way it works. You seldom know what is risky until you are in so deep that you have to take that risk.

She raised her voice ‘Well damn it, if you get yourself killed I will never marry another Marine’

we started laughing so hard that the conversation turned into a screaming climax to our lovemaking.

Camp Holloway

The unit arrived in Pleiku  and then on to Camp Holloway. The last time I was here it was a very busy place. But when I got out of the plane this time not much was happening.  I started looking around and something happened in my gut and my hands got clammy. This is where my nightmares came from.

The Lieutenant gathered our platoon together. Most of the new guys didn’t know where they were. He said ‘We are in a base called Camp Holloway, in the Central Highlands.  We are very close to Cambodia and the Ho Chi Min Trail. Our job here is to interrupt the flow of enemy soldiers, ordnance and rice coming down that trail.’

He didn’t mention that the  Ho Chi Min Trail was miles wide in places, and we had to do our work without stepping into Cambodia. We would be fighting well trained and well armed north Vietnamese regulars who could melt into Cambodia anytime things weren’t going their way.

It was a an impossible assignment and everyone knew it but the President and most of his generals.

Because of the heat most of us slept  in tents inside the concertina wire and it felt fairly safe.   We would have slept on the ground if it weren’t for the mosquitoes.  It was an offense to be found sleeping without a mosquito net. Malaria as well as the enemy  took a toll on soldiers despite the pill we swallowed every day.

In the highlands it is not exactly cool at night but it is cooler than the jungle below.  Sometimes there is a breeze.  When we were inside the base we had our meals prepared for us and we had a lot of other amenities we would not have while on patrol.

The Big Fight

There  were a few soldiers there that I knew from my first tour.  Some remembered me in the big fight and the star I was given. The new troopers, only boys really, asked about it and treated me like a hero.  It bothered me.  I would never mention the star and would be ashamed to wear it in front of others who were in that fight.

I don’t remember everything but I remember it was a hard, bloody fight fought  over a couple of days. They told us later that we won but I don’t know. If that was victory I can’t imagine what defeat might be.

In my opinion everyone there was a hero, but for some reason I got the star. I think they just counted the number of Vietnamese bodies in front of the  machine gun and didn’t look into the details. A pile of Vietnamese bodies looked good on the six PM news back home.

How did a medic like me find himself behind a machine gun in that fight?

My  platoon  had been cut off from the other troops and we were in a position be overrun with the night coming on.  The NVA were throwing wave after wave of attacks at us but we were holding. The platoon had lost about half of its effectives and I had used all of my medical supplies.

Arnie and I jumped into a hole and were digging further in furiously to get below the firing when we saw that the guys on the machine gun crew were all dead. We knew we had no chance unless that machine gun got back into play immediately. We moved the bodies and crawled into that hole.  I started firing and Arnie was feeding the ammunition. Our artillery was keeping the field illuminated from five miles away with flares and white phosphorous rounds so we could see the enemy. None of us thought we would come out of this alive. We were fighting just to even the score. But somehow we survived until daybreak.

We were stunned when another platoon broke through to us with reinforcements, water, ammunition and food.  The NVA attacks diminished.  They were pulling out slowly but still fighting.

We knew that we had a couple of wounded soldiers outside our perimeter. They had been there all night. When the sky brightened before dawn we could see them about 50 yards away, still alive. When the firing slowed a bit Arnie decided to go get them.  He had almost reached them when an RPG hit him square in the back.  He was blown apart and his blood splattered over the two wounded men. I ran to him but all I could do was toss what was left of him into a body bag. I was on automatic pilot I had no time for emotions. that came later

All of our platoon officers had been killed or badly wounded so our sergeant and the officers of the rescue platoon took charge. The lieutenant sent a couple of soldiers to help me with the two injured soldiers and Arnie. He waved us down to the LZ for evacuation. As we approached the LZ the enemy began firing again and all I could do was to quickly load the two injured and toss in Arnie’s body bag.  The pilot could not wait any longer so I jumped on to tend the wounded in flight. there was a pack of medical supplies on board. I did what I could for them and then collapsed.

I woke when they pulled me off of the chopper.  They thought I was one of the wounded because I had so much blood on me. I  told them I was not wounded but when my feet touched the ground I felt a sharp pain and I fell.  I have no recollection of when it happened but a bullet had gone through my foot.

On Patrol

The big fight was a long time  ago, but this place is near where we fought it.  Today we were told to get ready, that tomorrow we would  go at platoon strength to  probe and locate  the enemy. We  would be brought in and out by helicopter. This would be the first of many pointless patrols. Men would die needlessly because of a bad  political decision in Washington.

We dropped into a small LZ without meeting any opposition. That doesn’t mean they weren’t watching us.  The NVA were smart and were exploiting the vulnerability of our situation.  They would set up ambushes and sometimes we would walk into them. The firefights were relatively short, unlike the pitched battle of the big fight.  This enemy would do as much damage as possible before our air and artillery support could arrive.   The sky raiders would come in  with rockets and lay down napalm.  The artillery would shake the ground all around our position but it was usually too late.  The NVA were halfway to Cambodia by that time.

This went on for several weeks. Meanwhile, I began to think that my wound from Operation Starlite did more damage than I or the doctors thought. I was  more absent minded .  My vision was not clouded but it was out of tilt in some way.

One day at Holloway someone came to me with a letter. It was from Anke.

‘I have some great news. At least I hope that it is great news to you too.

We did it. we’re going to have a baby! I am so proud of myself. I do hope this fits into your schedule.

They are going to send me back to a stateside hospital in a couple of weeks. Get out as quickly as you can.  By then I will probably be at home with our kid.’

Rural route 58, Hardy Township, Ohio. Ask anybody where the Yoder farm is.

I know it is hard for you to get a letter out but if  you can, tell me how you are feeling.’


The day after I got the letter I almost  let the platoon  walk into a trap. The signs were there but I missed them.  Luckily no one was hit in the first volleys. We hunkered down and waited for air and Artillery support.  Officially I was not to blame.  I was a medic and was not empowered to order anyone around. But the reality is that when a fire fight breaks out the medic is just another soldier in combat.  We don’t forget our primary job but we grab a rifle or any available weapon.

It is ancient history that we wore a big red cross to let the enemy know that we were noncombatants. In Vietnam that was a joke. The enemy had  priorities about who they killed.  the best targets were officers, the second were the radio men, three were the medics.

I had made a bad mistake because my thoughts were elsewhere.

We had come up on an old man and old woman on the trail. We wanted to capture them to find out what they knew about the NVA in that area. They saw us and ran. The giveaway was that both of them ran fast like young men. They were leading  their pursuers into an ambush. The sergeant got our guys stopped before they ran into the ambush. Normally I would be helping getting the new guys stopped.

The young recruits didn’t know but the sergeant knew I had not been watching. We knew each other well. We had been in the big fight  together. He was 45 years old and a veteran of Korea. His questioning gaze at me said everything.

After we were back at Holloway I talked to the captain. I said’ I want out.  I’m no good as a soldier any more. I am distracted and somebody is going to get  killed if I continue making mistakes.’ I told him  my thoughts about the  concussion.  He sent me to the doctor.

The doctor poked around and looked at my eyes several times.

‘There is something wrong, that’s for sure.  I don’t have the instruments here to say  for sure but I think you had a minor stroke when you got that concussion. Things like that are often missed in field hospitals.  Do you have headaches frequently or places on your body that are numb?

I do have headaches and maybe more often than before. I don’t know. The fingers on my right hand have been numb since I got the wound.

‘Soldier’, he said ‘you just got your ticket home.’

I tried to keep it quiet but that was impossible.  When I walked in the enlisted men’s club It had been redecorated.  A big poster read ‘You can go,  just leave the morphine behind.’

Some jokers were wearing their old fatigues cut away to reveal wounds that I had  sewn up or bandaged. I couldn’t buy a beer that night.

After a couple of weeks my discharge papers came through. They were going to fly me home in the next week. I also received a letter.  It did not come from Anke. It was from her father. I could see that he had shed tears and wrinkled this letter in spots.

Mr. Corrigan,

I am Levi Yoder, Anke’s father. Unfortunately I have terrible  news to tell you. I and our family are weighed down with grief.

Anke died yesterday from complications during childbirth. Your son came through it a healthy baby.

Just before Anke returned from Vietnam she was taken ill with malaria. She was able to overcome the disease but the effort left her weak. The doctors recommended to abort the pregnancy but she would have none of that.

When she went into labor she asked that if there was a problem I was to contact you and say how much she loves you.  She asked me to welcome you when you arrive at the farm. That we all shall do.

Although we have not met, Anke has told us about you. My wife and I think of you as a son. We all share the same sorrow.

In the meantime the baby will be well taken care of.  He is healthy and Anke’s sister is caring for him.  She also has a silver medal that Anke gave to her for safe keeping.  Anke had it engraved when she went into the hospital.  It reads ‘Until death do us part.’

We know that it may take time for you to get free of the army but please come as soon as you can. Your son is here.

Levi Yoder


My mother had written me earlier to tell me that she and my father were divorcing. She said that it would probably be official by the time I got home. She said she was selling the house and moving to Florida to get away from the Ohio winters.

It did not surprise me.  My parent’s marriage had always been rocky.  I think that they had just grown tired of each other after the children were out of the house.

After my flight landed in San Diego I had to  spend a few hours to get officially released from the Marine Corps. Then I booked a flight to Cleveland.

I was many days too late  for Anke’s funeral so I thought  I would make a quick stop at my house to pick up things I might need.

I called Mom to let her know when I would arrive and asked her to pick me up at the airport. She said she could but the house was a wreck and littered with packing boxes.  She said they had sold the house and they were leaving for Florida next week.

I asked who ‘They’ were. She hesitated a bit.’Me and Marty, he has been living here since your father moved out.  We pooled our resources and bought a nice little house with an ocean view in Naples Florida.

She picked me up in my car, a Ford Mustang.  My dad bought it for me when I graduated high school. He was in upper management at Ford and got a big discount. Mom said ‘I had it washed and gassed up.  I hope it’s OK.’

It smelled of cigarettes and the ash tray was full of butts from Kool cigarettes. My mother didn’t smoke.  When we got to the house Marty was standing in the front yard, waiting to meet me.  He was smoking a Kool cigarette.

Marty had the red complexion of a confirmed alcoholic.  Immediately I didn’t like him and got a sick feeling thinking about my mother spending the rest of her life with this asshole.  My dad wasn’t an angel and he cheated on my mom, but overall he was a lot better than Marty.

Neither Marty nor my mom were interested in hearing about Vietnam. They  wanted to talk about Florida. That was OK with me. I didn’t really want to talk at all but thought I should let mom know that she had a grandson.  I thought I would skip the details.

‘Mom, I married an Army nurse in Vietnam.  We had a kid together.  My wife died of Malaria and I am on the way to see my son down below Millersburg where the family lives.’

‘Really? why didn’t you write?’

‘No time, Everything happened so fast.’

‘I wish I could go with you to see him but that will have to be later, after we are all settled in Naples. What’s his name?.’

He doesn’t have a name yet.  Her family is waiting for me before we name him.’

She just then saw the scar on the side of my head. ‘what’s that?’

‘That is a failed attempt to kill me. It was a bit of luck that he missed. No real damage was done but it sure is ugly. I will let my hair grow out to cover it.’

‘Your bedroom is stuffed with moving boxes but the bed is still there if you want to sleep.’

‘No, they are waiting for me down in Millersburg  I am going to the bank to withdraw the money I have there and then I am off ‘. Maybe I will come down to see you in Florida after you are settled.’

This was a lie.

‘ You know that your father is in Dearborn now, living with that bitch of a secretary.’

‘Yes I know.  I will look him up later, after I take  care of things downstate.’

That was another lie.

She accompanied me back to my car.’ John I love you and I can see that you are having troubles.  I wish I had more time to stay with you. Let me know about the baby’

I stopped at the bank and then headed south to the Yoder farm.  I kept the windows open to try to get rid of the cigarette smell.

I followed Anke’s directions that led me to a small graveled road which led into a dusty dirt road.  I cruised back and forth on it until I saw an older man and woman coming off their porch to watch this car that was obviously looking for some particular house. I stuck my head out. ‘Can you tell me where the Yoder farm is?

They walked over to me.  The man said ‘this is the Yoder farm and I presume that you are Mr. Corrigan.

Yes, I am and you are Levi and you are Miriam. Is that correct?

‘Yes.  You can park over by that truck if you like and join us on the porch.’

Miriam called inside the house. ‘Rebecca, Mr. Corrigan has arrived.

A girl about twenty years old ran out to the porch. She was Rebecca,  Anke’s  younger sister.

On the porch Miriam took both my hands into hers and she kissed my cheek. ‘Welcome, Mr. Corrigan  to our family.’

Miriam and her daughter wore shapeless ankle length dresses of light cotton in this hot summer weather.

‘Please call me John’

Levi said ‘John would you like something to eat or drink after your long drive?’

‘ I would like first to go to  Anke’s grave and then to my son.’

Anke was buried in the small Mennonite cemetery near the farm.  The soil on her grave had no grass growing on it yet when I arrived.

I had to go to the farthest corner of the cemetery out of the view of the others. I wept into the bare soil until I had no more tears. I don’t know if it was 20 minutes or two hours before I finished, but the three of them were still standing where they were. It looked that Miriam and Rebecca had been crying.  Levi was trying very hard not to cry.

We walked back from the cemetery in silence.  Rebecca was carrying the baby and I was looking at him for the first time. She shifted him to her other arm where I could see him better.

The lunch was on the table.  Levi Said ‘ We are meeting under difficult circumstances.   It may take a while for John to be comfortable in a Mennonite family.

John, We like to think we are progressive Mennonites.. and that  is not so much a religion as  it is a way of life. No one is going to try to convert you.

I suggest that we do not try to go too fast in making the decisions that we will soon have to make.  We have to have time to think. The baby is sleeping now. After lunch it might be a good time for someone to show John his way around the around the farm.  Miriam, could you do that?

‘Yes, I will be happy to .’

After lunch we started at the hen house. Miriam had a little basket and she was reaching under the hens to gather the eggs.   The hens knew  Miriam’s touch. they didn’t move or even cluck.  We left the basket on the kitchen table and continued our walk.

In the orchard she showed me the trees that were planted and tended by Johnny Appleseed a hundred years before.

Miriam said ‘That was  how Johnnie made his living. You can see signs of his work everywhere around here… the towns of Apple Creek  and Smithville, the home of Granny Smith for whom the apple was named are all near here.  Johnny was also a preacher but not a Mennonite  or  an Amish preacher.’

A few of his old trees are still bearing a little bit of fruit but we have planted many more over the years. Eventually  we will have to cut the old trees  but I like to walk through them now. They are a link to our history here.’

We press and sell the cider in the autumn

‘Mennonites are not supposed to drink alcohol.  However I have noticed all my life that a lot of  the cider sits around until it ferments. The men will drink it on some occasions pretending that it is not alcoholic. Levi is no exception but I don’t think it is much of a sin.’

In the barn she said’ We do not raise pigs or beef cattle any more, first of all because we no longer want to raise animals for slaughter and secondly  Rebecca opened the books and showed us that it was not as  profitable as the dairy cows.  The dairy  cows are pastured on our fields but they are managed by  Abel, Levi’s cousin.  His farm is the next farm to ours.

We keep three or four  horses and a buggy. the buggy is in the barn gathering dust.  We seldom use it but for weddings, births and funerals. In such times we like to think about our heritage.

The girls liked to ride horseback and sometimes I would ride with them. I don’t think I will ride again . I can’t imagine us riding without Anke.

Miriam started to cry and we went back to the house.

She took me to a room toward the rear of this big house that had sheltered many generations. The room had been Anke’s bedroom. Miriam showed me where everything was.  she said’ Don’t worry about your baby. Rebecca has taken charge of everything. I believe it helps her to mourn her sister. they were very close ‘.

The next day after breakfast Levi opened the conversation.

‘ What shall we do with this baby Mr. Corrigan? after all, You are his father.’ We here love him ,he is the child of our child, but, being the father you have the right to take him.  If you do take him, take him as soon as you can because it will break our hearts and should be done quickly.

Rebecca was holding the baby. She stood up and looked at me .  Sounding almost angry she said to me ‘If you take this baby, you will have to take me too.’ She burst into sobs and ran with the baby down the hall to her bedroom where the baby had been installed.

Miriam said ‘Please excuse our daughter.  This has been very hard for her.

Levi said’ perhaps I spoke out of turn.  You have been through a hell that we cannot imagine. You need to rest now. Won’t you stay with us as long as you can? We would love to have the man my daughter loved at our table. It might help to close the circle.  There is a gaping hole in our family right now.

In the silence that followed, Rebecca  returned to apologize to me. I stopped her and said ‘don’t be afraid, I am not going to take the baby away from you.’ Her tears started again.  she put my son in my arms and sat down beside me, smiling through tears.

I acted just the way a man who hasn’t been around babies would.  I was afraid I might drop him or hurt him in some way. I was tense and nervous. The baby felt all this uncertainty and reached his arms out to Rebecca.

She took him back and said ‘He is a strong baby and a good eater.  He will want to be fed in a few minutes’ and she took him back to her bedroom which was now also the nursery.

I accepted her father’s invitation. After all, I had no other place I wanted to be.

In the morning ,smelling breakfast, I got up and started to the kitchen, Rebecca’s door was open and she was rocking and nursing the baby.  She motioned me in.

I hadn’t seen that she was nursing from her breast.  She said ‘don’t be embarrassed.  My parents still call me a girl but I am not a child. I am 18 years old and I am a strong, healthy woman.  This baby needed a mother to feed him. I tried and tried and finally the milk came. Mother is happy that it worked this way and I am happy too. I would not give this job to anyone else.

At breakfast Levi opened the conversation. ‘What are we going to name this baby?

Levi asked me about my preference. I asked ‘Are there any traditions in this family about naming a baby’  Rebecca had tucked the baby into bed for a nap and was just then coming into the kitchen. ‘There is usually a Levi in each generation.’

‘Let him be Levi then.’

Levi insisted on giving the baby my name as a middle name. So my boy was to be called Levi John Corrigan.

I mentioned that I would like to be useful around the farm as long as I stayed there but I didn’t know anything about farming. They all smiled at once.

‘I don’t know much more than you.’ Levi said. He continued ‘ Of course as a boy I did farm chores but when I inherited   this farm I already had a job that I loved.  I am a woodworker. I make furniture, cabinets, anything that is made from wood. Rebecca can show you the woodworking shop.

Rebecca broke in saying ‘he is being very modest.  He is an artist.  His furniture is well known all over America . He has awards. With a wink she also said, his furniture sells for quite a high price. You can see some of his work here’

Levi continued. ‘ I did not seem to have a calling as a farmer, and then again we did not have any boys and only two girls. As strong as they are we could not farm with two girls.

Our girls work in the garden and have chores to do in the kitchen and the household but we have hired out the hard work of plowing, planting and harvesting to teams of young men. There are a lot of them nearby and it is especially easy to hire them when you have beautiful daughters to bring them ice cold lemonade in the fields.’

‘Father!’ she said but did not continue.

‘Rebecca has studied farming at the Department of Agriculture experimental station  up in Wooster and knows modern scientific farming very well.  We have benefited from her knowledge in a number of ways but we do not think she has a calling to farming. We employ a cousin of mine to superintend the work.

Rebecca  jumped in.’ a call to farming?… I don’t intend to live a life where I have to plod through cow shit every morning at dawn  in big smelly boots.’

Miriam said ‘The first hay has been cut and they will be coming tomorrow to bale and stack it. You might find it interesting and it will allow us to think about something other than our grief.

I will be baking all day today because the women and girls will come with the men and boys. They will bring a lot of food but Rebecca and I have to be prepared too.

‘Everyone was at the funeral and they know of our loss. They will be curious to see Anke’s husband. If you do not want to be on exhibit we can arrange that too.’

I will be happy to be on display, but I will need someone beside me to make sure I do not do or say anything wrong.

Rebecca  said’ I will be there with you and Anke’s baby. Expect some women and girls around us.

‘What shall I wear?’ I don’t have much here.’

Rebecca  saaid ‘That’s a good question, the watchwords in this community are Modest and Plain.  Look at us.’ She gestured toward her ankle length, plain, shapeless dress.

Miriam said ‘I don’t think they will expect you to dress like Mennonite or Amish men but maybe I am wrong. I think you would look very handsome in a white work shirt with hook and eye closures and a pair of black work pants held up by suspenders.  I think we have something of Levi’s that would do for you. Let’s see.’

Rebecca ran upstairs and came back with an armful of clothes.  She was mumbling ‘Modest and Plain, Plain and Modest… Honestly, I wish for one time I could have a bright red dress that was definitely immodest’

Miriam asked’ Where are you planning  to wear a dress like that?

Rebecca  gave the clothes to me and sent me to my bedroom to change.  When I returned they thought I looked  very well.

Miriam approved and said ‘ we won’t worry about what others think, He is so handsome.’

I accepted her compliment without comment.

I guess life will go on but our  sorrow will not be on display. Grief or no grief, the hay needs to be cut, bailed and stacked when it is time.

The work crew arrived at 6 am.  Levi’s cousin Abel was leading. Big pitchers of hot coffee were on the table of the summer kitchen and breakfast meals were made for those who had not already eaten.

Levi introduced me to Abel. Abel looked me up and down.  He had never met anybody like me, a man who had killed many men. He accepted me I think because Levi had explained to him that I was not a willing killer.

Rebecca  held the baby and I was beside her, but it seemed like the women and girls were uncomfortable with me so close. I moved a bit further from them.

The women and girls were passing the baby around and chattering in German and English. I think that Rebecca  was explaining me to them. I could see them glancing at little Levi and then at me to see if they could find any likeness of Anke or me in the baby’s face.

The farming machinery was owned by the valley cooperative. The square baler itself was pulled by a tractor and a flatbed wagon trailed behind. The flatbed wagon is where the bales would be stacked before they went into the loft of the barn.

Abel drove the tractor. His oldest son took the bales as they came out of the baler and passed them to a second son who stacked the bales on the flatbed.  A couple of other older boys walked on either side of the wagon to deal with impediments like stumps and big stones in the cut hay.

I was standing with Levi when Abel started the tractor. It backfired loudly. I dropped instantly to the ground and rolled under the wagon.  Thank god I did not have a weapon. Everyone saw me and how broken I was.  Rebecca  quickly  handed the baby to a girlfriend  and offered her hand to me to pull me up.  We went on as if nothing had happened.

Abel came down off the tractor and looked at me.  This time his eyes were full of pity.

‘I am sorry ‘he said ‘Walk with Rebecca  and I will start the tractor again.’

Gradually the shock went out of the people’s faces and talk was resumed.

The baler team started. I watched them for a while.  I could see that Abel’s second son was having a hard time stacking the bales.  He was strong but very short.  As the stacks of the bales went higher he was having difficulty tipping the bales over the top.

When they passed I jumped onto the wagon. I was tall enough to push the bales easily over the top.  Abel’s son understood immediately and passed the heavy bales to me.

I have always been strong and the Marine Corps made me even stronger so it was easy for me to help. I think the crowd was watching me with interest.

At the barn there was a conveyor belt that carried the bales into the loft . Number two son jumped into the loft to arrange the bails as they came and I started throwing the bails on the conveyor and sending them up to the loft. By five o’clock we  had all the first cut hay safely in the barn.

I hopped off the wagon. Rebecca  was there smiling. I had undone some of the embarrassment I had  caused. The men came around and shook my hand.  The women and girls seemed less afraid of me. Then we all set down to a big lunch.

I would have liked a cold beer but no one at this lunch had ever tasted an alcoholic drink except perhaps for a little hard cider.  There was coffee, buttermilk, lemonade, spring water and fresh apple cider.

The following day Rebecca  and I started our daily walks.  On this first walk Miriam came with us. They both wanted to know about Anke’s work in Vietnam. I told them about Anke’s courage and compassion, how she tended the boys who were the victims of this endless slaughter. She could not leave them. I told them how Anke tended me and how we fell in love.  ‘I believe that she saved my life as well as saving the lives of many soldiers, some of whom were younger than Rebecca .’ They both were fighting tears back, trying not to cry again. I don’t know how I did it without breaking down.

The next day we walked without Miriam. We threw down a tablecloth in a patch of shade and sunshine and spread the picnic.

I spoke first. ‘Rebecca, what do you want to do with your life? At  eighteen you have important decisions to make.  If you have made plans for your future  this turn of events probably upset them. ‘

You are right about my plans . I am facing decisions and I don’t see as many options as before. I know only one thing for sure. I will stay with little Levi. I think you will stay  with him too. But how can we do that unless we are married.

I don’t know. If all this had not happened what were your plans.’

‘I am not much of a  Mennonite, but I am a Mennonite still. Like my sister I want to be of service to those in need. I idolized my sister.  She took a very difficult and dangerous path.

I am not made to be a nurse. I wanted to go to college to study other ways to help. ways that are not so bloody.

Another hero of mine beside my sister is  Jonas Salk. His research  rid  the world of Polio. If I could help in research like that I would feel I had done something very important. It requires education.  I had decided to enroll at the College of Wooster in the Fall. It is not too far from here and has  a good reputation.

‘I think we could both do that.  I have the GI bill that will pay for my education  and I have some money for your tuition’

She smiled and said ‘There are no worries about me.  My ancestors came to this place many generations ago.  They claimed acres and acres of the richest soil on the continent and bought up more as things progressed.  They all worked hard and led a frugal life.

‘We are the recipients of all this bounty.  I don’t know exactly how much of a fortune we have but I know it is sizable.  This is not to brag but to tell you what you need to know about me. If it comes to marriage  I come with a rather nice dowry. I am now an only child.  If you are my husband my fortune will be yours.

‘I would not marry you for all your wealth.’

I know that.  My sister told me you are a man of honor. But I must have something that you want. If not for money why would you marry me?

If I were to marry you it would be because you love my son, because you have a good heart, you are intelligent, you have a good sense of humor and you are beautiful.’

I am not as beautiful as Anke was.

It is not a contest with Anke, you are both beautiful to me, your warm face and my memory of Anke’s.

At dinner Miriam was the first to speak. She said ‘ At the haying a couple of my friends asked whether  John and Rebecca  would marry. I haven’t mentioned this because I wanted them to get to know each other better.

Levi didn’t seem surprised about this. I think it seemed inevitable to him that it would turn out this way no matter when. He asked how we felt about it.

‘Rebecca, I have seen the two of you in your walks with little  Levi. You look for all the world like a young married couple. Maybe we should consider that prospect.

John, do you think that you would have a woman like her to be your wife?

‘We have discussed the  possibility. I have reservations about how short a time it has been since Anke’s death.  It   seems  disrespectful to have a marriage so soon.  Also, Rebecca had plans for her future that have been overwhelmed by what has happened. However it seems that we will linked together by Little Levi no matter what.

Rebecca, you have heard this. What are your thoughts’

My thoughts are the same.  Is it too early after my sister’s death? But yes, I would have him be my husband. There are many reasons I would want him, but my first reason is that I don’t want him to marry someone else and decide to take little Levi to grow up with a different mother.

‘ That sounds like damnation by faint praise but I have already said I would never take him from you and I promise that I will never require you to plod through cow shit every morning in big stinky boots.

We all exploded in laughter and the tension in the room was broken.

Miriam said’ I know in my heart that Anke would approve of this marriage no matter how soon it is. There are only four living people who are concerned in this.  What the neighbors think is not  relevant to our plans’

‘I think that you two have some things to talk about. Go in the parlor and talk. We have discussed these matters but nothing has been decided. It has been a long day.  Your father and I are going to bed.

I went into the parlor while Rebecca went into her room to check on the baby.  When she returned she sat down beside me.  She took my hand and pushed something into it.  It was a silver star engraved with the words ‘Til death do us part. ‘Anke gave it to me and said it might come in handy someday’.

Then she said ‘I’m tired of talking and thinking. let’s go to bed. Come sleep with me and your son… but no sex,.. not yet anyway.’

The next morning we walked again. Miriam made a sack lunch for us. ‘I think you two might have a long walk today. Take this.’

We talked about the possibility of marrying.  She said ‘we said nothing about love last night, just necessities. Are you sure you love me or could come to love me?

How could I not love you?

She turned to me and gave me a hesitant kiss.  Then she opened the lunch and said ‘let’s eat.

She gave me my sandwich and a plastic cup of apple juice.  We were eating silently when she asked me how I slept last night.  I had to think how to answer that.

‘ Well,  it has been quite a while since I slept with a beautiful woman and never under these conditions. It took a long time to fall asleep.  I started out on the far edge of the bed from you before I fell asleep.  I listened to your breathing. When I woke up this morning I was curled up next to you. I rolled back over to my side before you woke up.’ How about you?

My heart was racing all night because I had never slept with a man before, sex or no sex.  I wish that you had been closer to me and that we had whispered together.  Do you know how to gentle a horse?

bBcause I feel like a young filly who needs to be gentled.

I said ‘I’m sorry. I did not know if I was permitted to touch you. Tonight then we will whisper our innermost thoughts and gentle each other. I too feel like a colt who needs to be gentled.

When we finished lunch we walked again.  We stopped at the pond.  Rebecca leaned over and picked up a small flat stone and skipped it across the water. It was a game I also had played as a kid. I picked up a flat stone and skipped it too.  We made it a contest, who could have their stone take the most the most skips crossing the pond.

She said ‘ Anke and I would play this for hours. Most of the time  she won. We also became very good baseball pitchers with that sidearm motion that skipping stones taught us.  She was the better pitcher but the boys hated to face either one of us.   At young ages we could throw curves and sinkers. And Anke had  an unbelievable fastball for a girl her age.’

‘Anke was always the best at everything but I was never jealous. I was her little sister and she very patiently taught me everything I wanted  to know. I adored her. ‘

We decided to walk to the cemetery  to put some fresh flowers on Anke’s grave. We found Miriam there. She had seemed stoic in our earlier discussions about Anke but she was far from stoic here at anke’s  grave again.

Her face was lined by tears. Her eyes were red and she was sobbing and shaking.  Rebecca  went to her and they held each other silently.   After some time we three arranged our flowers on the grave and walked back to the house together. Miriam said’ I have prayed to God every day since her death to relieve my pain and help me accept His will but God does not hear me.’

Levi and little Levi were on the porch swing when we arrived.  The baby was in Levi’s arms. Levi looked at us and knew where we had been. He said nothing.  He took  Miriam’s hand and lead her upstairs. He still carried the baby in his other arm.

Rebecca went to the kitchen to fix the meal and I set the table.

Rebecca   opened the after dinner conversation. Speaking to her parents she said ‘ I am sure you noticed that John and I slept together last night.  It was at my request. Nothing much happened except his snoring.

Miriam said ‘I should hope nothing happened.’

Rebecca   said’ I am still as pure as the fallen snow mother… at least for now’.

Miriam said ‘I should hope so.’

Levi listened  to  Rebecca  with a bemused expression. He turned to Miriam with a soft smile and whispered audibly. ‘I don’t think you remember our courtship very well.’ Miriam blushed.

Rebecca  said ‘The only thing of importance is that I have decided to marry John.

‘Last night I dreamed of Anke.  She was with me and so were John and the baby. The dream made it clear to me that I have a duty to Anke’s son and a duty to John who is recovering from a life in hell.  He needs somebody and that somebody has to be me.’

I am sure now.’  I think he will marry me. This is the first time he is hearing this  but he would have to be crazy to turn me down.

Levi looked at me and asked ‘John?

I nodded.

Rebecca   said ‘I think it is time to plan a wedding. This purity is not going to last very long.’


Kurt Survance ©


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Kurt Survance ©