Monday, August 1, 2016

Wings of Hope


          One of the highlights of my summer was when my son’s wife Jane, asked me to tell her family my favorite story their Grandfather, my husband Bud, told from his days as a prisoner of war during WW2.

            I stumbled for a bit, because over the years Bud’s stories had been told out of order, piecemeal, covering a span of some fifty years—and I, a chronological thinker, was unsure of the timing of the stories he told.

            Then my daughter assured me, “Grandpa’s stories don’t have to be told, or even written in the order in which he experienced them, to be valuable to us, Mom.  We just want to hear them. We want to remember.”

            Her words so aptly spoken, became a deep conviction, a charge, to preserve his stories. Those of us who lived through those years must preserve and tell the stories of men like Bud.  To unfold what happened for future generations, those true experiences too real and valuable to be forgotten.   

            Our generation has a responsibility to fill in the gaps of our missing history and to give voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves.  My husband has been gone now for three years.  One of his great legacies are the stories he told.  Some of the most poignant came from his experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany during WW2.

            And now for a moment—imagine that time staggers a moment…then slowly slips back to the day my husband’s mother, Leola Gibson, a weary mother of seven was preparing a meal in the kitchen of her Oregon City home.   

            So many mouths to feed, so many to care for, she was tired—so very tired.  But she must go on.  Sweat rolled off her forehead as she stoked the old fashioned wood stove, then punched down a mound of bread dough resting beneath a freshly laundered dish towl.  Her strong capable hands quickly formed it into loves which she placed into greased bread pans darkened by many bakings.

            A sudden knock—she wiped her hands on her apron and hurried to open the door.  The uniformed man standing there, held out a telegram.  “It’s for you, Madam.”

            Leola’s stomach tightened into a knot.  She took the telegram and thanked the man, but her heart cried out.  Telegrams always brought bad news.  No God.  Not my Bud.  Please God, please.  Let him be alive.

            Speechless she unfolded the paper with trembling fingers.  The words were capitalized and they burned into her heart


            It could only mean one thing.  No one knew where her eldest son was.  He was missing in action.  She bowed her head.  Why he could be lying alone, wounded, on some distant battlefield. 

            A picture of her boy, covered with blood while bombs exploded overhead burst into her mind.  No, no, not my son, my first born.  He can’t be dead.   More than anything she wanted to believe Bud was still alive.

            That night she lay on her bed and cried deep soul tears until there were none left to shed.  She hadn’t yet told her children and her husband was away seeking work in a far away town.  “Morning will be soon enough,” she whispered.

            At last she slept.

            And then in the stillness of the night her son came and sat on the edge of the bed.  He leaned forward and took her hand.  “Mom, it’s me, your Bud.  I’m okay.  I’m alive.”

            He told her of the places he’d been; the small towns beside the river.  The Battle of the Bulge and where he’d been taken at Bastogne as a prisoner of war to Bad Orb, a Nazi prison camp not far from Frankfurt,  Germany.

            “I’m coming home, Mom.”  He lifted her hand and brushed her swollen knuckles with his lips.  “We only have to wait.”

            Leola awakened with a start.  Her son no longer sat beside her—had he really been there?  Was he alive?  It had all seemed so real.

            Deep in her heart she knew it was true.

            Hope bubbled up inside her as she pushed back her blanket and hurried to the kitchen.  Her eldest son was missing in action, but he wasn’t missing to  God, or to her…his Mother.

            She smiled as she mused.  Today’s family breakfast would be a celebration of words and food.  She took several loaves of the fragrant bread she’d baked and the fresh laid eggs her eldest daughter Ada, had gathered from the chicken house, and set them on the drain board.  There would be bacon her husband had bought to surprise the family, the week before.

            It was only when the food was cooked and the children gathered around the table that she told them the news.  Their beloved big brother serving on the other side of the world was safe.  He’d come through the Battle of the Bulge where he’d been captures; then endured the long trek through ice and snow, through the forests, where he was now a prisoner of war in Bad Orb, Germany.

            He was coming home.  She’d dreamed he had come to her and she knew it was real.  They only had to wait.

*      *      *

            Bud Gibson lay on his narrow hard bed, his nose close to the wires of the bunk above him.  The Nazis had housed their captives in a dank, cold building set aside for prisoners of war.  The wires stretched beneath him held no mattress, only a threadbare blanket way between him and the biting cold and the soldier above him.

            The man beneath him, a new prisoner, coughed and gagged.  Sometimes he whimpered like a small child.  At other times he shouted at those who had captured him.  And then the yelling began.  Strange, one could still hear the rustling sounds of mice—or were they rats, or stray cats prowling tin the darkness?

            Bud twisted this way and that as he struggled to pull the thin blanket higher on his shoulders.  His back ached, his feet throbbed and the aroma of unwashed bodies, blood and filthy debris shoved into every corner, assailed his senses.  What a terrible world of dirt, cold and pain it was.

            Gradually the night deepened and suddenly he felt as though he was airborne.  The cold still embraced him, but now it didn’t seem to matter.  

            Suddenly, he knew.  Somehow he was going home.

            He stepped into his mother’s room.  Sat down on a soft blanket at the edge of her bed and reached for her hand.  “Mom, it’s me, Bud.  I’m alive.  I’m okay.”

            He told her of the places he’d been:  Bastonne where he’d been captured, the snowy forest they had marched through to arrive at last in Bad Orb--Stalag B, a prison camp near Frankfort…

           I think of that 18 year old boy, drafted and thrust into the middle of a terrible war.  Bud saw and experienced things no human being should have to endure.  Yet, in the midst of this horrible ordeal, God was merciful.  God allowed my husband to fly through the night on wings of hope to let his beloved Mother know he was alright--to assure her that he was coming home. 

All they had to do was wait.


Wendy Simpson said...

Oh oh, dear Mum Eva, this is the best story I've ever read. Tears. Oh my Eva this is heart wrenching and beautiful and amazing. The bond between mother and son, the man you lived so and Father of your children must have been an extraordinary man. I am so glad he he came home. I cried all the way through this. Thank you for bravely and proudly sharing the legacy of your beloved. Love always, Wendy

Dr. Keith Thomsen said...

You weave a vivid, well-crafted story. I can see where Beth gets her talent.

Leah said...

this is so good! Thank you so much for sharing this story! You have such talent for sharing a story!

Abraham Lincoln said...

Great story!

~Cheryl said...

Thank you for this heartfelt story. It inspires and affirms my own efforts at preserving family history. I have been stuck in my writing for several months. This is exactly what I needed! Thank you .... keep writing these!

Beth Niquette said...

Your writing always inspires me. I love this story. It touches my heart so very deeply. I love you, Mom.

Wendy said...

Oh yes it does, So thankful she has you in her life. Hugs to you both.