A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
THE MAN IN THE NAVY UNIFORM
The train whistle moaned its long, mournful warning. It was time to go.
For most boarding the westbound train that mid-winter evening, the prospect of departure was exciting. But for Bud and Wanda, the sound of the whistle was filled with foreboding.
It was the height of World War II. Three months earlier Uncle Sam had invited Bud to leave his insurance business (the local draft board told him that the only thing less important to the war effort than an insurance salesman was an artificial flower maker) and his family of four-going-on-five to enter officer training. And now, 90 days later, he was a U.S. Navy lieutenant, junior grade, being sent who knew where, to do who knew what.
Don't you dare make me raise these kids alone! Wanda said through her tears.
I won't, Bud promised as he pulled Wanda close, unembarrassed for once by this public display of affection. I'll be back soon. You'll see.
He mounted the train just as it was hissing its departure. He waved bravely to Wanda, hoping a show of courage even feigned would dispel the gloom. It wasn't that they were unwilling to do their part. Each felt it was their duty. But the uncertainty that would begin the moment they lost sight of one another was almost too much to bear.
And so they clung to each other with their eyes he leaning out of the train door, she standing on the wooden platform for as long as they possibly could. Locked in that gaze were a lifetime of hopes and dreams, and promises spoken and unspoken. Bud strained to watch through his moist, red eyes until Wanda disappeared in a blur of platform activity. Wanda watched until the train disappeared into the fog of an impending snowstorm. Then she dried her tears, pulled her coat around her against the sudden chill and trudged wearily to the bus stop.
For three years Bud and Wanda shared their service to their country. While he was in the South Pacific, she kept the home fires burning. They were each alone, yet somehow together, pulling and praying for each other. Bud wrote two or three times a week, and although he couldn't be specific about his location, it helped to know he was there somewhere. Wanda did everything she could to help the children feel their father's influence, if not his presence. She read his letters at the dinner table, and encouraged the children including little Bobby, who had never seen his Daddy to kiss the photo of Bud in his Navy uniform before going to bed.
Nearly three years later, Wanda returned to the station to welcome her husband home. When he emerged from the train, she ran into his arms, followed closely by four of her children. It was a joyful reunion, filled with laughter and tears. Then Bud noticed a little boy standing a few feet away. He stooped to get a closer look at his son. Bobby studied his face. It looked familiar. Then he held out his little arms and took a step toward the man in the Navy uniform.
I wasn't there, but I've heard the story often enough through the years that in my mind I can see the look on my Dad's face and on my brother Bob's when they met for the first time. Veteran's Day is a time to remember such reunions -- as well as the reunions that never took place -- and to thank God for those who were willing to go when it was time to go.
And for those who watched them go.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.