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The Box

By Hardy H. (Hardy) Jackson

Veterans Day.

My Father landed in Europe in the fall of 1944, went into the line, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was there when Germany surrendered. 

He never talked about it, much.

So my memories of his war consists of fragments of a few stories, the V-mail he sent Mama, a little journal which he kept, and the box.

As long as I can remember, the box was on a shelf in a bedroom closet. 

It was wooden, and you can tell from the finish it was military issue. It was just big enough to hold what Daddy put in it when he came home.

Once they were souvenirs.

Now they are memories that I inherited, with the box, when Daddy died.

There is a metal-cased New Testament and an English-to-German phrase book, handed out in full anticipation of invasion and victory.

A few German coins and insignia from a German uniform.

There is a German paratrooper knife, a remarkable bit of Teutonic engineering designed so that with the flip of the wrist out comes a double-edged blade for cutting the chute-lines when you hit the ground. And folded into one side is an awl-like metal rod, the size of a pencil, tapered to a sharp point, which Daddy once said could be used with lethal efficiency by the man from whom he took it.    

And a Nazi banner. Bright red still after all these years, with the white circle in the center and in that a black twisted cross, the swastika. The banner was one of a hundred or more that hung from light-poles along the main street of a town Daddy “liberated.” Even today, by itself, more than half a century later, it evokes an involuntary shudder, just as it was meant to. 

But of all the things in the box, the one Daddy always paused over is the Jugend knife. About the size of what I strapped on my belt when I was a Boy Scout. As decorative as practical, it was the sort of thing that might be given as a prize in some contest or competition. Like the banner, it still has its luster – the black enamel sheath and handle, and on the pommel, the same contorted symbol.  

Hitler Jugend.   

Hitler Youth.

“I took it off a boy no older than you,” my Daddy told me when I was hardly in my teens. “He and some others his age had been sent out to dig fortifications. This and a shovel was all he had.” I didn’t ask if any were killed. I didn’t want to know. 

And I don’t think he would have wanted to tell me.

Not the way he looked at me then.

Like a father wondering what he would have done if that boy was his boy?

But these are my memories of his memories. 

I don’t know why my father kept these particular souvenirs – likely they were not chosen so much as blundered upon. He also sent home a picture, a watercolor, he found rolled up in the gutter of a shelled street. It hangs in my office today.

We owe a lot to our veterans.

We need to honor them.

And remember what they did for us.

And do what they want us to do.

Which in my father’s case, is to do what we can to keep from creating any more veterans.

Now that would be a tribute.