Write On!

The Fields Can Wait

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm

by: Tara Wiley

I s’pose it’s not all that unusual for a tractor to be goin’ along the roads near Agra, Kansas. After all, we are a town in the middle of farms, and farms have tractors, and tractors need to get places sometimes, other than the fields – parts to get fixed and such. What struck me as strange was a tractor in town in the middle of the day headed straight for my joint when it shoulda been planting. Even through the smoky glass of my storefront, I could tell it was Eldon atop o’ his 1942 Ford 2N, rambling down the dirt and gravel of West Main Street. He dropped by Fred’s garage and soon I saw the ambling man following’ behind his brother, headed my way.

Soon enough the bar would be full to overflown’. The fields could wait on a day like today.

Eldon came in, his brother Fred beside him, the two actin’ like kids on Christmas, hoopin’ and hollerin’ like they’d already had a pint each. Eldon still in overalls, Fred covered in grease from his shop, they sat down in front of me and ordered the first of what seemed a hundred rounds. Eldon finally got around to noticing the shock on my face and hollered –

“Well, dad gum, you haven’t heard? Victory! Victory in Europe! Turn on the radio, blast it!” Now that explained everythin’. I’d heard bits and pieces of what old Eldon had seen and heard and done over there, things he wouldn’t tell. We’d get dumb and drunk enough to ask sometimes, and he’d either get mad or quiet, dependin’ on the day, tell us all to go to hell. We’d made him remember the hell he’d been through.

“One for Captain Frank! A better coxswain I never did know!” Eldon shouted and sent the shot down the hatch. “Another one, sir! I’ve got a thousand friends to drink to today! This one’s for Operation Torch! Damn the Afrika Korps! My brothers’ blood was not in vain!”

I learned a bit from other folks. Amphibious assault. Fancy words seemed to cover up the blood and guts reality of what these men had done. The newspaper let us in on a little:

Our brave men charged the shores of Africa in a wild amphibious assault. Boats made for water and land, meant to deliver hundreds of troops to the beachhead, trained to make the first attack against the enemy right there where water met shore… Casualites were catastrophic, but the with French at our side, we overcame… Lessons learned will lead to greater victories! 

The reporter was right. More attacks: Sicily, then Normandy. All began with Eldon and his amphibious assault team. Lord help him. I learnt of the fury from the radio, from the few men who dared to whisper their horror stories after a beer or two. Leanin’ forward on the red vinyl-topped stools, hands planted on the worn wood of the bar, that place turned into a confessional with me as priest. Fire from the air, from the mines in the shore, from the u-boats. Surrounded by body parts of their brothers in arms. Eldon in the middle of it all. No wonder Ruby complained of bruises from Eldon’s wild dreams. The war didn’t end for him when he come home.

Fact was, he’d gotten awful quiet. I hadn’t heard him hoot n holler like this in ages, wouldn’t again after this day.

“To Eisenhower! The mind behind the muscle!”

“Here here!”

A crowd was gatherin’. I hoped I had enough liquor to keep ’em all filled. Seemed the louder they got, the quieter Eldon was. I kept his glass full. Seemed the least I could do. I’d keep his tractor here for the night, too. Plantin’ would be waiting for him tomorrow. Tonight, he was half the world away in a sea blood-red, calling out the names of the men who gave it all for us to drink today.

———-

It would take 40 years and an encounter with his nephew-turned-Air Force-cadet before Eldon would share the details of his WWII experiences. Lying in a hospital bed, recovering from open heart surgery, perhaps Uncle Eldon thought this next generation of combatants would be worthy carriers of his contributions to the amphibious assault force. We are grateful he shared a bit of his story with us before joining his friends.

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