Color! Noise! Smells! The boom and bang of Independence Day give more stimulation than any ADHD-blessed person ever dreamed! Each sense is alive, wriggling with delight. All six screens are roaring, absorbing, and dancing faster than frogs hopping hot roads!
Despite being the ADHD-gene donor, Mom Blackwell wisely feared July Fourth and its unsupervised use of unauthorized fireworks.
A screen clarifies: Your unauthorized, unsupervised use. Your mother knew it would bring you home with eyes damaged and fingers missing.
Mom’s gone now. So’s my left pinky. (But let’s not speak of that here). At this commemorative time, their combined absence causes me to start thinking less about losing digits to explosives and lots more about those who went ahead of us to secure our freedoms … those who paid with limbs, families, lives.
Whoa, murmurs a disbelieving screen. What’s going on here? Are you – are you having a serious moment?
Lie down, suggests a second. This, too, shall pass.
C’mon, guy, it’s the Fourth! says the third screen. “Lighten up, already!”
Gratefully reviewing deeds done by selfless patriots across America’s 200-plus years, I wonder whether there are “heroes” in Blackwell lineage. Certainly, with so many of us roaming Earth, it should be easy to find a story about the incredible force for good we’ve been.
“I need a hero,” I simply say. Screen Five pipes up, Harold. Fighting overseas. I agree with Five, so from the pages of my mother’s collected letters, I now give you an actual battle account as experienced by one of the Blackwell heroes:
German artillery shells batter the Allies’ side of the Champagne landscape. Next-oldest brother to my father’s father, Great-Uncle Harold Blackwell fights for America in the first “Great War” –
Great War, Great-Uncle. Nice touch, that.
– as a Marine in France, late 1918. Wounded one week earlier when machine gun bullets find his legs, he’s already back on front lines. Time and luck run out when his stomach unintentionally serves as the backstop for shrapnel that opens him wide, spilling body parts all over the battlefield.
On Nov. 5, 1918, Harold’s anxious parents are notified their son’s been killed in the overseas conflict. The news devastates his grieving folks.
The news soon would be a shock to Harold as well. He, unaware of his declared passing (think of Mark Twain’s famed quote, “The report of my death was an exaggeration”), struggles valiantly just to survive.
I reached over and pushed what guts I could back into my belly, gathered the rest of them up in my hands, and walked two kilometers. A couple of fellows met me, tied bandages around my belly, put me on a stretcher and carried me to this little rock house.
I was just left there. I knew what that meant. If a man were too badly banged up to live, [then the official orders were], “Don’t retrieve him.” I got up, grabbed my death stretcher and dragged it behind one of the little trucks being loaded [with those militiamen considered to have the best chance of surviving].
Harold painfully wiggled in among three soldiers ready for pickup and tricked the confused attendants into taking him to the hospital tent.
I had head and abdominal wounds … a big hole in my belly. They took a section of my thigh and, with thin rubber tissues, covered my guts. Five surgeries later, I said, “No more.” I was arrested, thrown in the jug [jail], and a Navy man was sent to see me. “Blackwell, you’re charged with refusing an operation and talking back to an officer. How do you plead?”
I tore off all the bandages and showed him the long hole still in my belly. “Case dismissed!” he shouted. “But you’re going back to duty!” Three more officers passed me along [the military bureaucracy] until I walked in [one office] to find a big desk and a bald-headed commander.
He cursed and said, “Blackwell, where’d you come from?”
It was my old company commander, [the one] who’d reported me killed!
Harold listened intently as his shocked superior explained.
“You were lying there with your guts all out and your eyes glassy. We shoved off – you were gone!” Pause. “What are we going to do now?” Picking up a phone, the commander arranged my discharge, some clothes, and a ticket back.
Back to South Dakota. Where unhailed hero Harold Blackwell quietly walked among the good guys of the Badlands seven more decades, a humble and silent testament to the courageous spirit of America’s people.
Don’t make ’em like that any more.
Postscript: Actually, they do still make ’em like that. Thanks, veterans, for all you have done, do, and will do to keep America the land of the brave. The sight of those stars-and-stripes flying in the breeze, our flag’s white and blue dominated by its blood-hued red, still brings tears. We promise to remember freedom isn’t free.
Post-Postscript: To those of you who wrote that Leah’s photo last week (alongside her grandfather Doug) thankfully certifies she looks like her mom or my twin or somebody other than me, let me offer you Leah’s own comment at seeing this photo of us together:
Celebrate freedom with random acts of kindness