War Emblem

Grandpa was so Southern he could make the sink drain swirl backwards. He drank coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and gin in the evening. He worshipped God first and the Volunteers second, and considered the Smoky Mountains to be the cultural capital of the world.

“Grandpa,” I said, looking at a yellowing photograph on the coffee table, “who are they?”

The greatest men in the world,” he said, with a smile on his old, bald, wrinkled face. “Those were the men who I fought with, way back when I was young.” He pointed to a uniformed man at the bottom of the picture. “See? That’s me.”

“He doesn’t look like you.”

Grandpa laughed. “Lemme tell you something… they were all very brave, those fellas. This one here,” he pointed out, “Jack, when he was hurt, we all carried him through the snow. And then one’a them Germans came running out of the trees, shooting away, and we all ran, and I nearly peed my pants. But Jack, he pulled out his pistol and bagged him right in the knee. Didn’t even get on his feet.”

I jumped back on the sofa. “Wow!”

“It was a scary place,” Grandpa said, “but they were brave men. We saved each other more times than I can remember.” He sipped his foul little glass of gin, and then pushed himself to his feet. “Lemme show you something.”

He brought a little wooden box down from a shelf full of knickknacks, and opened it.

“A star?”

“A Silver Star,” he said. “It’s for the bravest of the brave: forgetting yourself to remember others.”

The medal was pinned to his jacket as he lay, watching heaven from the safety of his box. It was then that I knew how right he was.