Chapter 1 The return
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The flight was long and solemn. This was the last chance for him to visit his brother. It had been 60 years since the last time they were together. He had survived, come home, enjoyed a career at the local factory, and had a family; he had lived a full life. However, his brother was never far from his mind.
Fallingbostel. The sign was cheerful enough, stating the local achievements and clubs that call the village home. If a person didn't know better, no one would even realize a P.O.W camp was ever located near here. This camp had once housed a total of nearly 60,000 allied prisoners during the duration of the Second World War. Today it's a sleepy little village whose only mark on the world is the nearby Dörnitz Castle.
The old man had an 8 hour flight from his home near Atlanta to London, then a 2 hour layover for his connecting 2 hour flight to Hannover, Germany. From there, it was 40 miles by bus to Fallingbostel, former home of Stalag XI, the largest P.O.W. camp for allied prisoners of war. It was worth the trouble. He couldn't miss the dedication of the new memorial that was to take place in a few days for all the prisoners of Stalag XI. He had waited a long time to make this trek.
His wife of 40 years was unusually silent. Her normally chippery self was replaced by a quiet, thoughtful persona. She had insisted that he not make this journey alone. He insisted he could, but that's where she put her foot down. She told him she hadn't spent the last 40 years by his side, helping him re-adjust to the world and putting up with his nightmares after his experiences during the war and she was not about to miss this journey.
The man looked lovingly at his wife, suddenly very thankful for her presence, as they neared the village. It had been a long time, and he realized he needed her there with him more than he had imagined. She gave him a knowing look, squeezed his hand, and kissed him on the cheek just before they departed the bus. There was a slight haze and brisk chill in the air for being mid-April.
Appropriate enough for the occasion, the old man thought as he looked around. As he wandered around in a seemingly aimless way, his wife in tow, she could tell by the look in his eyes that he was searching for his brother--that he was back in 1945, almost completely oblivious to her presence.
Eventually, the man was directed to the park where the memorial was to be unveiled.. As he walked with his wife, taking in all the sights and smells, he became aware of the feeling that this place was wrong. This wasn't where the camp was. He began wandering around, asking the locals if they knew where the camp actually was, only to find that they either didn't know or had been told this park was the location of the camp. It seemed that either nobody remembered, or chose not to. He felt lost, guilt and memories weighing on him.. He had let his brother down. He was distraught, knowing this was not where the camp had been.
A small honor guard of British soldiers from the 7th Armored Brigade stationed nearby were practicing for the memorial service, and had taken note of the old man and his wife. They could tell they were Americans from their attire and strut, but they didn't act like normal tourists. They watched him silently for a few minutes. By his posture and the way he carried himself, they could tell, even in his advancing years, that he was a soldier.
After watching the man wander around, asking questions, and searching for something, seemingly to no avail, the leftenant in charge of the honor guard approached the old man. His first impressions were of an older man, about 5"8", broad shoulders and wavy, sandy brown hair that had bits of grey coming in. He lacked the hump formed from years of bad sitting habits like many other men had developed after years of hard lives. The British officer noticed that this man, while old, still had a fire in his eyes.
The leftenant listened intently to the old man's story. As the man spoke, the officer became increasingly humbled, and a tear breached the corner of his eye. He quickly realized he was in the presence of a true hero.
Once the man finished his tale, the leftenant turned around and addressed his men. He had them assemble formation in front of him. Once this was done, he executed a perfect about-face and barked the order, "PRESENT ARMS!" He and his men sharply saluted the old man. The officer thanked the old man for the many sacrifices he had made, and gave the command to order arms. He then approached the old man and shook his hand.
The leftenant had the unfortunate business of having to inform the man of the camp"s destruction in order to make room for the subdivision, informing him of the only surviving structure : the former camp"s delousing building. The leftenant gave him directions to the dilapidated building, not far away. It wasn't much but it was something.
The leftenant was left with watery eyes as the old man walked away, while the honor guard wondered what that had been about. They had never seen their officer express so much emotion before. After a few moments, he regained his composure and turned back to face his men. With the memory seared into his mind, never to be forgotten, the officer told his men "Gentlemen, that is an example of a true soldier, a real hero. Dismissed!"
The old man was saddened by the news of the camp"s destruction, but he had been very humbled by the British honor guard"s reaction. Even after all these years, he never got used to being called a hero. For what? Surviving? Coming home? No, to him the true heroes are the ones who don't come home.
However, armed with the information from the officer, he began a renewed effort to find the camp, along with his brother. The couple walked along, the wife taking in the sights while the old man walked further back in time with every step, his pace quickening.
He saw it long before she realized a building even stood there. She hesitated, searching for footing, as he quickly stepped through the thick underbrush that hid the decrepit, blue building. He could see signs of fresh graffiti covering the old, distinct markings of Nazi Germany. The man found his way around the walls, stopping to peer into each window as he came to it, unable to see anything through 60 years of dust, dirt, and grime.
Eventually, he found the old, wooden door. It was held secure by rusty hinges and a very old lock with a chain. A renewed energy of long lost youth returned, and, completely oblivious to his wife, he applied far too much force to the door. He barely caught himself from hitting the floor as the door caved. With the first step through the door, he was back in 1945 again;.