Wednesday, April 6, 2011

on April 6th

On April 6th, 1945, at ten in the morning, John Egan Gillies was shot by a sniper in the German town of Hamelin.  Moments earlier he had lost his best friend and as he was lifted up onto a makeshift stretcher, and dropped and lifted up again, he decided he had seen enough of war and let his glasses fall into the mud beneath him.  At the time his thinking was foggy, he was not yet aware that half of his body was paralyzed and he would be sent to France and then England to recover, but he was sure that being without those glasses would be his ticket out, so he let them go. 

members of Pa's 30th Infantry Division crossing the Rhine
Pa, or Jack as he was known to everyone else, did not talk about the war, but he would talk about this day, and the wound it left him with-a small depression below his shoulder where the bullet left his body, just large enough to hold a small child's fist.  Each year on April 6th, Pa would say grace at dinner, a prayer for his best friend Tim who died that awful morning, and another for the German soldier who shot him, with a hope that the sniper lived to be an old man.  Fifty-two years and a few months after Hamelin, my grandfather was buried beneath the shade of an old Copper Beach.  Rows of trees, not soldiers, took the form of sentinels and corn fields, not battle fields, surround his resting place.

At home with my grandmother and their 9 children
Today, there are nine children, eighteen grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren who are here because he came home.  And since he is no longer here to say it himself, I will do it for him: today, I wish for peace for my Pa, for his old friend Tim, and for the German soldier, that he made it home to his own family, that he lived to be as loved as John Egan Gillies.

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