An old veteran friend of mine, Sid, passed away this last week. We spent a lot of time doing drama together, and he taught me many things. He had been involved in theater since the days of vaudeville. He knew the old building we worked in better than anyone else, understanding its idiosyncrasies, and he shared with me more than I can ever remember. But there were other things he shared with me that meant even more than his knowledge and love of the theater.
Sid often spoke of his love for this country. A veteran of World War II, he talked about fighting in the south Pacific. One story he told me was especially memorable. They had been involved in a fierce battle on the front for many days, and when there was a slight break in the fighting, the men emerged from their fox holes to try to get food and other necessities from the supply line.
While they were above ground, they suddenly came under a heavy Japanese bombardment. The men made a mad dash to their fox holes. Sid and another man arrived at a fox hole at the same time, and each paused to defer to the other. But the other man grabbed Sid and threw him into the fox hole, then jumped in on top of him. In that instant, a bomb hit next to them with a deafening explosion, sending dirt and debris everywhere, and causing chaos and confusion.
When everything cleared, Sid found that the other man had been killed from the shrapnel from which he had protected Sid. When the fighting subsided for long enough that the dead could be buried, Sid tenderly carried his friend to where the others had been laid to be transported to the site where they would be put into simple graves.
Sid kept the man’s personal effects, hoping that if he lived through the horrors of war and returned to the country he loved, he might take those things back to the man’s family and share with them the story of his heroic life. The war continued on for a long time, but finally the day came that Japan surrendered. As Sid’s return ship neared the shores of the country for which he had served, his only thoughts were in finding the family of the man who had saved his life, and sharing with them the tale he bore in his heart.
But this was not to be an easy task with a quick ending. He was able to find out the address of the man’s family from the military records, but when he arrived there, he found they had moved, and he could find no forwarding address. He tried in desperation to find them, but to no avail. He eventually returned home, but continued his efforts to track them down. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years, and still he had no luck.
Time marched on, but Sid’s desire to find the man’s family never left him. Whenever Sid shared the story he became somewhat emotional, especially as he grew older and thought he would never fulfil the promise he had made to himself. But as he was approaching his final years of life, his family decided to help him in his goal. With the Internet and other modern day tools, they started passing the word and getting friends, some who didn’t even know Sid, involved in the search.
I will never forget that day, in the summer of 2002, more than 50 years after the end of the war. We were in the middle of rehearsal for one of my plays, when a lady approached me and asked if there was a man named Sid in our cast. When I called to Sid and he came down off of the stage, the woman handed him a paper that included the phone number for his fox hole buddy’s family. When Sid read it, tears started to flow down his face.
Sid excused himself, and when he returned an hour or so later, he wore a smile. An appointment had been set and he would be going to meet the family the next month when the production ended.
What a glorious meeting he ended up having. What joy he found as he shared his story with the man’s brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, and in turn received their gratitude and hugs. What happiness he found when his commitment had finally been fulfilled.
As I sat pondering Sid’s passing, and how much I’ll miss him, I considered how fitting it was that he should leave us at this time of year. He would now be joining a faithful friend and comrade for what would truly be a Veteran’s Day reunion.
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit his website at http://www.darishoward.com)