This piece was selected in honor of Veteran’s Day and all of the men and women who lost their lives in defense of this country’s honor.
“The Secretary of Defense informs you that Corporal Bruce Graham is missing in action. Last seen, Seoul, South Korea, March 8, 1953,” said the telegram that came to Ralph and Agnes, Bruce’s parents.
“Oh, how horrible,” sobbed Agnes Graham. She was sitting in the living room of her Brooklyn, New York apartment, knitting a sweater, “My only child.”
“”Maybe he’ll turn up,” said Ralph, trying to comfort his wife. Ralph was in his early sixties. He had been a doughboy in France in the First World War. Ralph looked out the window thoughtfully. He knew the downside to war.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it seemed patriotic to serve in the Army and Ralph Graham did his darndest to convince his young, carefree son to do just that. Millions of young Americans joined the military in the hopes of defending their country. Bruce wasn’t quite old enough to join the Second World War, but when the Korean conflict broke out, Bruce joined the war effort in hopes of pleasing his father.
Bruce Graham never finished anything he started. He was a mediocre student who got through school by the skin of his teeth. He tried music lessons, sports, etc., but never really stuck with anything. His parents tried to spark curiosity in their only child, yet he was content to read comic books and listen to the radio with homework assignments partially completed.
Ralph Graham studied the telegram. “I need to know where Bruce is. It’s possible he’s still alive.”
“I hate to say this but, I don’t think Bruce is coming home.” said Agnes, tears streaming down. “I have a feeling I’ve lost my child.”
Ralph put down the telegram. “I remember back when Bruce was six and we lost him in Macy’s. Remember he turned up in the toy department and had us petrified that he was gone for good? I have the same feeling now.”
Agnes said, “Bruce is not six years old.”
Ralph realized that Agnes was right. “He’s missing in action. I want to know where he is.”
“I knew it was a mistake for Bruce to join the Army,”
Ralph studied Bruce’s picture on the mantel. “I think Bruce did a good thing in joining the Army. I thought it might give him some focus and help him learn to finish what he started.” Ralph picked up a small, dog-eared photo of himself in an Army uniform. “For me, the Army was a good experience. I was hoping the military would be good for my son and it would bring us closer.”
Agnes looked at her husband. “It’s horrible not knowing where he is. This telegram from the Government doesn’t tell us much.” Agnes searched in the ball of yarn in her lap as if the answer could be found there.
Ralph sighed. “You’re right, missing in action doesn’t tell us very much.”
“I know if he died, we could have a funeral for him. I can’t help but wonder. Let’s call our pastor and find out if he can do anything for us.”
The pastor came to the house a few days later and counseled the Grahams, suggesting that they might want to consider a memorial service for Bruce. Agnes was grateful for the pastor’s help while Ralph sat in silence, listening, but not believing. A few months later, the Grahams contacted the church and requested a memorial service.
The war ended and Agnes continued knitting items for the church craft table while Ralph went to the American Legion and commiserated with other veterans who had lost loved ones. Ralph and Agnes went on with their lives.
Five years later, a former neighbor called the Grahams. It was Mary Fordyce who had moved to northern New Jersey. “Agnes, there’s someone here that you and Ralph should speak to. It’s someone who served in Korea with Bruce. His name is Corporal Jack Carlson.”
Agnes called Ralph to the phone. They both listened in at the same time. Tears ran down their faces as they listened to Jack tell them the story of Bruce.
“Bruce was brave. He was a mechanic and the best there was. I considered him my friend. One day, there was heavy fighting and I got shot in the chest. Bruce picked me up and carried me to a first aid station. I don’t remember much else because I was in the hospital a long time.”
Ralph said, “I’m glad you are O.K., Corporal.”
“Please call me Jack.”
Agnes said, “Jack, do you know what became of Bruce?”
Jack said, “After I recovered, I found out the entire unit was wiped out and buried in a mass grave. No one could be identified.”
Agnes cried, “Bruce is dead.”
“I’m afraid so. I wish I had better news.”
Ralph said, “Thank you, Jack, for letting us know.”
Agnes said, “I am now at peace. I appreciate you taking the time to contact us.” For Agnes, closure was better than not knowing.
For Ralph this wasn’t the case. As long as he could hope Bruce would still be found, the guilt had not overwhelmed him. Now it washed over him like a wave on the beach. For the first time in five years, Ralph who had been so steadfast wept uncontrollably. His son had finally made him proud, but Ralph would never be able to tell him.
Eileen Sateriale is a freelance writer living in Massachusetts. Her poetry, short stories and non-fiction articles have been published in on-line and print media.