When I was younger, I spent the weekends at the Lake of the Ozarks. Every weekend, he and I would take a ride to the "top of the hill" for something we inevitably forgot to bring. On these rides, he would tell me little "tales" of his life when he was a boy or stories about being in the Army during World War II. Nothing horrific, just the fun things you could tell a ten year old and still have them gaze at you in wide-eyed adoration.
My Grandfather met my Grandmother at a dance hall and just 10 days later, they were married. Papa says he was a lover and a fighter; he just couldn't be both at the same time. So he married my grandmother and then left for the war.
My grandfather was in the Cavalry. In fact, he first trained on horses at Ft Riley before the Army trusted him enough to let him ride the Harley-Davidson WLA motorcycle. (Guess they wanted to make sure he could stay in the seat.) The Army did finally get around to sending my grandfather to war; he landed at La Harve on D-Day +1. I don't know much about the fighting he saw; just that he saw it. When Saving Private Ryan came out I asked him to go see it with me. He shook his head and said "No, I think seeing it the first time was enough for me". Later he would tell me that bullets sound like bees when they pass by you and that your hearing tunes out the cries of people, but not the sound of bullets. From La Harve, he did a tour through Italy, Germany and France. By the time the war ended, his company was in Germany and living the high life in the Austrian Alps.
My Papa also holds the distinction of being promoted and demoted 13 times during the war. Seems Papa and trouble were quite the couple. And trouble followed Papa everywhere. Like the time he called the Lt.'s wife a whore and the Lt. was standing right behind him. That cost him his Sergeant's stripes. Or the time he and the company Sergeant went on the mail run and came back with a friendly pretty young Fraulein who was more than either of them could handle. (I was sworn to secrecy to keep that one from my Grandmother.) That cost him those newly re-issued stripes again. Papa went in the Army as a Private and got out of the Army as a Private; although according to Papa, the Army did its damnedest to keep promoting him but trouble wouldn't let them.
There are more stories he told me. Some as I got older, got more realistic. Like how the people in Europe were so starved that when a horse was shot, before they could go back to get it, the people had butchered it for food. Or what it was like to have a grenade explode in your face and spend months having your teeth, jaw and nose rebuilt. Of having your buddy next to you one minute and then gone the next and how it made making friends seem pointless in war. Mostly he told me the "good" things about the war. How the dance halls cost a dime, and that he and his best buddy "Peanut" could bring down the house doing the jitterbug.
Today he spends most of his time watching t.v. Although I don't know if he sees everything he is watching or if his thoughts are tuned to a different time and place. If the faces he sees are the ones of friends and family here today or the ones gone past; or if he will really remember me the next time I call. All I know is that my greatest hero sits so far away and I would give anything to go back to a summer day and take a ride up a hill for one more story...