Sitting on the bench in front of Russellville bus station, Bob took a good look at the town he called home. Time hadn’t changed the buildings through the years. He wondered if any of the people had changed. He knew he had changed.
A bell off in the distance began to chime. Gong. Gong. Gong. The Elam Lutheran Church bell, a person could set their watch to it, always on time. Bob wondered if Pastor Lindstrom was still serving at that church.
“Bob? Is that you, Bob Doll?” At the sound of his name he turned his head toward the voice. A small, round woman with hints of gray in her styled hair stood next to him.
“Margaret Schuler! It’s good to see you.” Bob held out his left hand. Slowly she puts her left hand in his. Her blue eyes were looking at his right arm, hanging limp, lifeless in his sleeve.
“Is it true Bob? Did the Nazis do that? I thought you was in a hospital to fix it up like new. That’s what your ma was saying. What happened?”
He smiled. “They did the best they could. I still have my arm. I’m blessed with that. More than others, you know. The Lord was watching over me, Margaret.”
“I know that He was. Our ladies circle prayed everyday for you boys over there, and we’re still praying, even though the war is over. Lots of rebuilding to do, isn’t there?
“Yes, lots of rebuilding,” Bob repeated. “Are you headed home, Margaret? If so, I’ll walk with you and you can catch me up on what I’ve missed these last few year.”
“Yes you may. And don’t be surprised if your ma and I have a little get together now that you’re home.”
Later that week, the little get together needed the use of the school’s gymnasium. Russellville residents were out in full force to celebrate their hometown hero. The stage at one end of the school’s gymnasium was gaily decorated with red, white and blue streamers. The band played a couple of patriotic songs. Then the mayor, the principal, and the pastor of the church gave short speeches. Then it was the hero’s turn.
Bob step onto the stage at the high school. Dressed in uniform, he looked very sharp, commanding attention. He rubbed his palms on his slacks. They were as wet as under his arms and around his neck. There was little breeze coming through the open gymnasium windows, but it wasn’t cool. Nothing is cool in August in Kansas.
The paper he pulled out from the coat pocket contained an account of some battles he was involved in, the story of saving his fellow soldiers and how his arm got shattered with bullets from a Nazi gun.
In the silence, he looked out at the sea of faces anxious and eager to hear him. Several were fanning themselves with the programs. Someone coughed in the back. A mother shhh-ed her children. A chair scraped the wooden floor. Fans whirred, dispersing hot air.
In a fleeting moment, Bob’s mind wondered back, as a boy growing up in this town, and the numerous people who influenced his life. Like when the first grade teacher caught him lying about stealing Tommy’s pencil, Bob spent time at the principal’s office.
Over to Bob’s left sat Coach Kemp and his family. It would be a long, long time before he’d forget Coach’s voice harping ‘teamwork’ and ‘always do your best, Doll’.
And there was Sadie Thompson, Margaret Schuller and Rosa Baker, looking spiffy in their ‘going to church hats’. Three lovely ladies volunteered their time in the Sunday school classrooms. Bob was grateful for all their Bible lessons.
But most important was his mother and father. They placed their son in God’s care when he was sent overseas. Proud and caring parents, they still worried, knowing they weren’t immune from receiving news that Bob’s name could appear on the missing list, or worse.
How many more friends, teachers, neighbors, family; had a part in molding his life. Bob realized that there were heroes sitting before him. They go unsung, unnoticed, never make the news, not that that would have made any difference. They just did the job. That’s the way its always been done.
Moisture formed in his eyes. What does a hero say? The speech got wadded up and tossed onto the floor. He didn’t need that paper to say what was on his heart.
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