Overcoming a haunting memory
Every year, Memorial Day brings back many memories of my husband, Eugene Brody.
He served in the United States Army during World War II. He saw terrible things.
He saw his fellow GI’s fall around him and for someone so kind, war was very difficult. But one particular incident took him 40 years to put to rest. Let me tell you this story.
Go with me now to France.
The American GIs were walking single-file down a one-lane, unpaved road in rural France.
On either side of the road were hills straight up. The German soldiers were up there on either side with their guns ready to pick off our men. They were sure targets.
Many were killed on that road, so many that finally, the sergeant in charge just broke.
In desperation he yelled, “Run! Save your own life! Go!”
Men yelled to say, “But we can’t leave those wounded and dead on this God-forsaken road!”
The sergeant, now wounded himself, screamed, “Scatter! Save yourself!” as he dove into a deep culvert on the side of the road.
Gene was one of the ones who refused to abandon the wounded and dead. He yelled, “Who will help me carry our men to help?”
Not one volunteered. There was no longer a single-file line but rather terrified young soldiers running everywhere.
Then a few stepped forward to join Gene in his attempt to help. Gene turned around to see if his best friend had volunteered. They had graduated college together, joined the Army together and even trained together.
Both had walked this terrible road together. But his friend refused yelling, “Brody, it’s suicide!” Gene asked him to do it anyway. The friend looked at Gene and said, “Let’s go.”
It wasn’t too long before it happened. As Gene and his friend carried a badly-wounded GI, a blast broke the air from up on the left-side hill. The bullet slammed his friend, hurling him to the ground dead.
It took every fiber inside my husband to continue his mission knowing he’d asked his friend to do it for him.
In fact, Gene, too, was hit. The narrow leather that held his helmet on took the bullet meant for Gene’s head and it saved his life.
The war finally ended, but not for Gene. For the next 40 years, he built a successful Wall Street career while going home at night to face his nightmares about that walk on that road and his friend falling beside him.
But an amazing thing happened one day shortly before his 60th birthday.
For many years, he had been a marathon runner. We heard the Paris Marathon was to take place on Gene’s 60th birthday.
We went. He ran it. He finished.
But our main mission was after the race. We would find that road and we would walk it, hand in hand and with no German soldiers with guns on hills on either side.
He cried. He beat the air. He touched the dirt. He screamed up at the German soldiers. He knelt.
He held me and mumbled, “Forgive me, God. You must have saved me for a reason. I’ll find the reason.”
When we returned to our farm in Kentucky, Gene quit his jobs at 61 and went back to college to become a registered nurse.
Finally, all the terrible dreams, incessant nosebleeds and headaches ceased and he enjoyed our farm life and his work at the local hospital until cancer quietly ended a well-lived life.
The view from the mountain is wondrous.
Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.
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