It was pure chance that I happened to take his call. A digital watchdog makes that judgment, the computer deciding which of us is inline to next say hello. It happened to be me. What he was looking for wasn’t what he asked for, and half an hour later I was changed. It’s impossible to know the wealth of what rests in his mind, alert and alive. The places he’s been and the beauty he’s seen can’t be mapped or quantified in any real way. He’s seen the world, but he’s been left behind.
His name is Henry, and all of his friends have died.
It was a lazy afternoon, and I was ticking down the minutes to go home. The calls rolled in and kept me busy assisting customers with the varied things they may want or need. Then he called me. His voice was sort of gravely, he paused mid sentence to think a moment. You could tell by his cadence that he was on the tail end of his years. But there was warmth and kindness to his voice, a tone that said he was a friend.
Henry was looking for his brother George. It has been a long time since they’d seen one another and he had hoped the newspaper might be able to help him. As he began to explain who George was, I realized whom I was talking to, a veteran. A World War II Veteran who had been to Germany and seen the horrors that humans can exact upon one another.
He tells me George was a good kid from Neppel, WA, which was renamed Moses Lake in 1939. They were farm boys and their father had been a Mason who built the Coulee Dam. They had built some fine stone structures themselves, but there wasn’t much for them at home. So they enlisted and were sent to Europe to fight in the Great War.
When Henry’s little brother George came home, he wasn’t the same man. Before, you would be hard pressed to find an ounce of liquor in him. He told their father what he had seen. George was the first to enter Auschwitz. His father didn’t believe him that Hitler would do that to his own people. After the war, George drank until he couldn’t any more.
And here, Henry came to the crux of why he had called me. He’d been looking for his brother. He had not seen him for a very long time. When exactly, he didn’t say but he began calling the local cemeteries to see if maybe they could give him some closure. He had found him at Fairmount Memorial Park in Spokane. They told him where he could find George.
George had been at a hotel that has long since been remodeled into a parking lot. Henry doesn’t know why he was there, or with whom. All he knows is that on August 8th, 1963, George fell from a third story window. Henry is able to laugh a little and tells me the fall wasn’t bad but it’s a hard landing. Henry was hopeful he could find George in the paper; perhaps an obituary or perhaps a little history on what exactly happened that day.
Henry may never know.
It strikes me as we continue to talk, that Henry is the last soldier to die. He has been around the world, seen it’s beauty and it’s strife. Yet through all of his loss, the thing he misses most are friends, someone to talk to.
He tells me that he’s reading a book on F.D.R. titled Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Deleano Roosevelet. He’s a student of history, and life. He loves Spokane, and the life he’s lead. He never has a bad day, because you have to choose the day you have.
Henry chose to see the beauty in the world.