By Daris Howard, Guest Columnist
As Memorial Day and D-Day approached, many memories flooded Randall’s mind. He lifted the polished gun down from its prominent place on the wall. It reminded him of a critical day and a fateful decision.
Rounding a bend in the small valley, he and his three men had come under enemy fire, and found themselves pinned down by what appeared to be a lone gunman positioned on the ridge above them. One of their group was slightly wounded, but they were able to get him to safety behind some fallen trees. They kept their heads down as they determined what to do.
They considered waiting until dark, and then trying to make an escape, but Randall felt that would only play into the hands of the Germans. He made the decision to make a break for it, and try to get in a position behind the gunman.
With a command to his men, he made a dash for a position up the valley where he would be out of the sniper’s range. As he took off, his men opened fire at the gunman to, in turn, draw his fire. Still, Randall could hear the bullets whizzing past. At one point he tripped, and it likely saved his life as a bullet missed a direct hit, and instead only tore a bloody gash in his arm.
The pain momentary dazed him, but the thought of a promise he had made gave determination to continue.
When Germany had invaded France, he and his family had been over from America to visit his relatives. He placed his wife and son on a ship back to America, and then joined the French resistance.
Before he had, he had promised his young son, who was barely 10, that he would return.
Knowing his family was safe in America brought him peace, and his promise gave him perseverance during all the long years of fighting and the two years he had spent as a prisoner of war.
Once the American and British forces had liberated the prison camp he was interred in, he joined the American forces to try to put a final end to the conflict. He and his small group of men had been sent on a reconnaissance mission to verify that this small valley was clear of German forces, and he was not about to let his promise end there.
Ignoring the pain, he was back up in a flash, and running as fast as he could. Once he reached a point where he knew he was safe, he paused for a short rest. He then turned to the arduous task of climbing the ridge and sneaking up behind the gunman. It took much of the day, but eventually he reached a point where he could see the German soldier laying prone on the ground.
He couldn’t risk a missed shot, so he gradually worked his way closer, picking his steps carefully. Finally, he was at a distance he knew he couldn’t miss. He raised his rifle to his shoulder and sighted in.
But something made him pause. At this proximity he could see that the German soldier was probably no more than 15. He knew that, because of heavy losses, the Germans had forced younger and younger boys into the army.
Suddenly, Randall felt a turmoil in his heart that created a conflict more vicious than any he’d faced on the battlefield. He felt a surge of hatred for what the Germans had done and for what he had suffered in the prison camp. He started to squeeze the trigger.
Then he remembered his own son, and considered that this boy probably had a family somewhere who hoped he would return home just as he hoped to return to his own family.
Many times Randall nearly squeezed the trigger as the battle between his hatred for the Germans and the soldier’s youthfulness raged within him, but finally, the thoughts of his own son won, and forced him to risk the danger of taking the boy prisoner. He inched closer and, when he was finally close enough, he barked out, “Drop your weapon!”
The boy did as he was told. At Randall’s command, the boy rose to his feet and turned around. When he did, both of them gasped, as father and son looked into each other’s eyes.
Randall couldn’t believe what he saw. “Peter, son, what are you doing in a German uniform?!”
“Father, we never made it to America. Our ship was stopped, and the Germans took many of us boys and forced us to fight for them. All the rest are dead. I didn’t want to fight for them, Father, I really didn’t!”
Randall looked at the gun in his hand that Peter was eying fearfully, and he considered what he had nearly done out of misplaced hatred. He wondered how many people were innocently caught up in the horrors of war and were killed simply because of how someone else perceived them. He threw the gun aside and swept his son into his arms.
As Randall’s grandchildren bounced noisily into the room, Randall replaced the rifle into its revered spot. He smiled as his son and his beautiful daughter-in-law entered, and she placed the newest member of their family into his arms.
As he looked into the eyes of his new grandson, a prayer of gratitude filled his heart, as it had every minute since that fateful day. Gratitude for that special gun. The gun that was never fired.