On this memorial day, I have been thinking again of my Grandfather, Merle Hicks. He fought in World War II and was a decorated hero. He was shot in Germany and received the Purple Heart. The year he passed away, he was finally honored with seven medals including the Bronze Star for his service in the war. The ceremony took place 70 years later…something to do with military records burning up in a 1973 St. Louis fire in Missouri. Thanks to my Uncle and Cousin, I believe, he was recognized almost one month before his death in 2013. (Here is a great article about, Merle Hicks – Eldorado Springs, Missouri article.)
We heard many stories of WWII. But the war story I remember the most is not of the fighting, the death and the horror. The story I remember the most was one of compassion and enemies coming together during the middle of the war, on a cold night when the only thing that mattered was sleep and safety.
Grandpa told me that he and his fellow soldiers came across an abandoned house and began to settle down for the night. Unbeknownst to them, a Nazi soldier also had the same idea. This man must have realized he was out gunned, or maybe he was just tired of fighting, and surrendered with his gun up in the air.
That night, Grandpa and his buddies treated this “enemy” as if he was one of their own. They shared a meal, a drink maybe. The next day, they released him and he walked away unharmed. What trust. They didn’t know if this man would turn around and show his troop where the enemy was. They didn’t know if he would be the same man shooting them down the next night. What an amazing act of compassion and humanity.
I have always imagined them sitting around, sharing a tin cup of warm beer and sharing stories. Even though I know they couldn’t understand each other. Did one of them stay awake to keep an eye on the Nazi, for fear he would grab a gun and shoot them all? Or, did they intuitively know he was safe and sleep soundly next to their supposed enemy?
I think that night they all learned that the enemy is just a flesh and bone man who loves his family and country too.
I’m proud of Grandpa and his service to the World. I am even more proud that my Grandpa was relieved when he knew he never had to kill another man and that he recognized the power of humanism in one night of truce. And, I am honored to have been loved and cared for by a man, that in my lifetime, knew no enemy.
Thank you for reading.
© Heather McBride-Anders, 2016