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The Hero

Rating: G

My mother's parents came from Hungary, but my grandfather was educated in Germany. Even though Hungarian was his native language, he preferred German to all the other languages he spoke. It seems he was able to hold a conversation in nine languages, but was most comfortable in German. Every morning, before going to his office, he read the German language newspaper, which was American owned and published in New York.

My grandfather was the only one in his family to come to the United States. He still had relatives living in Europe. When the first World War broke out, he lamented the fact that if my uncle, his only son had to go, it would be cousin fighting against cousin. In the early days of the war, my grandmother implored him to stop taking the German newspaper and to take an English language paper, instead. He scoffed at the idea, explaining that the fact that it was in German did not make it a German newspaper, but only an American newspaper, printed in German. But my grandmother insisted, if only that the neighbors not see him read it and think he was German. So, under duress, he finally gave up the German newspaper.

One day, the inevitable happened and my Uncle Milton received his draft notice. My Grandparents were very upset, but my mother, his little sister was ecstatic. Now she could brag about her soldier brother going off to war. She was ten years old and my uncle, realizing how he was regarded by his little sister and all of her friends, went out and bought them all service pins, which meant that they had a loved one in the service. All the little girls were delighted. When the day came for him to leave, his whole regiment, in their uniforms, left together from the same train station. There was a band playing and my mother and her friends came to see him off. Each one wore her service pin and waved a small American flag, cheering the boys, as they left.

The moment came and the soldiers, all rookies, none of whom had had any training, but who had nevertheless all been issued, uniforms, boarded the train. The band played and the crowd cheered. Although no one noticed, I'm sure my grandmother had a tear in her eye for the only son, going off to war. The train groaned as if it knew the destiny to which it was taking its passengers, but it soon it began to move. Still cheering and waving their flags, the band still playing, the train slowly departed the station.

It had gone about a thousand yards when it suddenly ground to a halt. The band stopped playing, the crowd stopped cheering. Everyone gazed in wonder as the train slowly backed up and returned to the station. It seemed an eternity until the doors opened and the men started to file out. Someone shouted, "It's the armistice. The war is over." For a moment, nobody moved, but then the people heard someone bark orders at the soldiers. The men lined up formed into two lines, walked down the steps and, with the band in tow, playing a Sousa march, paraded down the street, as returning heroes, to be welcomed home by the assembled throng. As soon as the parade ended they were, immediately, mustered out of the army. My mother said it was a great day, but she was just a little disappointed that it didn't last a tiny bit longer. The next day my uncle returned to his job, and my grandfather resumed reading the German newspaper, which he read until the day he died.