The longest weekend in their lives 1945:
Dick came home from school that Friday and went to the kitchen table to do his homework. His mother was cooking and his father was reading the newspaper in the living room. A knock at the front door interrupted the quiet evening and Dick’s father got up to open the door. When he came into the kitchen he looked pale and like he was about to cry.
‘Honey? What’s the matter?’ Asked his mother concerned.
‘He’s dead.’ He whispered ‘Bob is dead.’
He held out the paper and read out loud ‘“Dear mr. and mrs. Sherman. We regret to inform you that your son, PFC Robert Sherman 1920, was killed in action in Germany on 12 April, 1945 trying to defend his country. We’re sorry for your loss. The US. Army”’ he looked at his wife who was shaking her head.
‘That’s not true.’ Muttered Dick as his mother began to cry and his father went over to hold her.
‘He can’t be dead.’ He looked at his parents and said ‘I don’t believe he’s dead.’ His father pulled him closer, into a hug.
The weekend went slower then anything Dick had ever experienced before. His mother couldn’t stop crying and he had seen his father in Bob’s room more than once looking lost. Dick had tried to keep an optimistic tone but as the days passed he found it harder, especially when he looked at pictures of him and his brother, in one picture Bob had humoured him and allowed Dick to ride on his back during their last holiday. The songs that his father had written the past two years reflected the mood of the country, a father’s, or family’s, worry about a son in the middle of a war, and Dick knew that this would leave an even bigger impact on his songs.
The following Monday while Dick was at school he found it very hard to concentrate. His teachers said nothing, knowing that he had a relative in the war and like many others the sudden change in mood could only mean bad news, and left him alone. When he finally got home he went straight to his room and thought of all the good memories of him and his brother. He heard a knock on the front door, left his room and saw his father with another letter in his hand. He was crying, but smiling and Dick came closer. His mother had also come over and looked angsty.
‘He’s alive! Bob is alive, he’s injured and set to be sent home.’
Dick smiled brightly.
‘are you sure dear?’ Asked his mother and his father nodded.
‘“dear mr. and mrs. Sherman. We apologise for our previous telegram that stated that your son, PFC Robert Sherman 1920, had fallen in combat, he is injured and will be sent back to the USA at the earliest possible time.”’
Dick jumped up. ‘I knew he couldn’t be dead!’ He shouted happily as his mother fell into his father’s arms with tears, this time of happiness, running down her cheeks.
Back from the war 1945:
By ship and by train:
The war had ended and Bob had spend the last few months in makeshift hospitals in England recovering from the injury to his knee as well as the surgery that followed. Now he was finally on his way home to the US. He and several others were onboard the hospital ship A.A.Milne.
They were eight wounded patients in a ward room and after several hours of boredom they took a vote and decided to celebrate the fact that they were finally going home. The only problem? How to get their hands on alcohol. Bob got the idea of ordering a full case of “Tally Ho” after shave lotion while another ordered a case of Coca-Cola. Which meant that when they mixed the two they had “Tally Ho Cocktails”.
Unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be a good idea. A few moments later Bob felt like he was dying, vomiting, shaking, hallucinations and cramps were just some of the symptoms they suffered. When a medic finally found them there wasn’t anything they could do but wait for the denatured alcohol to leave their system. It took eight days of suffering before Bob felt better.
While on the ship Bob met up with one of only two German refugees he had ever known, Gerry Brauer was used by the army as an interpreter but as he told Bob, because he could speak German he was looked at with suspicion his fellow soldiers would spit at him and call him a nazi. He wasn’t he was Jewish and hated the nazis.
Due to a storm and the many seriously wounded the ship had to sail around the storm and so, they wouldn’t dock in New York but in South Carolina and a train would take them to Los Angeles. The train ride would take ten days.
Bob climbed onboard the train using crutches. He hated those things and he was determined to use those ten days to practice walking unaided so his family wouldn’t have to see him like this. It was painful but the doctors had told him that exercising his leg wouldn’t cause any permanent damage. But they probably hadn’t counted on the amount of exercise that he was doing.
When the train finally pulled into the Union Station in downtown L.A Bob began to feel more and more anxious. A nurse stood by the exit,
‘please you need to use those crutches.’ She said to Bob as he carefully climbed down from the train.
Bob shook his head ‘I’m fine.’ He said but the nurse gave him a stern look and he took the crutches.
He knew his family would be standing at the end of the long platform. Once he was off train, and out of sight of the nurse, he propped the crutches up against a beam on the platform and made his way towards the end of the platform to his family. He could feel how slowly he walked and imagined himself as a limping Frankenstein’s monster.
The walk along the platform was eerily similar to the long bright tunnel he had hallucinated on the operating table at the field hospital, the moment where he had died momentarily. His pulse began to race even faster.
‘No, no, no. Don’t pass out now.’ He thought.
A porter with a heavily packed cart passed him smelling strongly of “Tally Ho” after shave lotion.
‘Shit.’ Bob thought as the smell hit him and he began heaving.
He looked ahead and spotted Dick waving and his parents running towards him.
Dick was waiting next to his parents, excited to see his brother again. They had arrived at the train station early so Bob wouldn’t have to wait for them. At last the train pulled into the station and once it had stopped several people came closer, all of them there for the same reason they were waiting for a relative to come home.
‘Did you find out what his injuries were dad?’ Dick asked as he tried to spot his brother through the crowd.
‘He had been shot in the leg.’ Answered his dad shortly.
The crowd thinned a little and Dick spotted Bob. ‘There!’ He said excitedly and pointed.
There was Bob, limping towards them slowly, a porter passed him and Dick saw his brother pause for a second.
‘Shouldn’t he be using crutches?’ Asked his mother worriedly.
They finally reached Bob and as he looked up at them they could see that he was pale, sweating and was trembling slightly.
‘Bobby, what have they done to you?’ Asked their mother.
Dick looked at his brother ‘You sure got skinny.’ He observed.
Bob looked directly at Dick and pointed at his campaign ribbons on his jacket . ‘Hey Dick, ever see a combat infantry badge?’ He asked and promptly fainted and fell to the floor.
Dick was stunned as were his parents they paused for a moment before they all rushed to Bob.
Dick, together with his father managed to get Bob into the car where he could lie down on the back seat. Their mother sat with Bob’s head in her lap where she could stroke his hair.
When they were finally home they got Bob into his bedroom and while his mother sat on the bed Dick saw their father leave the room. He grabbed the chair at Bob’s desk and placed it next to the bed for his mother to sit in. He then left the room to see where his father had gone to. He found his father in the living room on the phone.
‘Dad?’ He asked as his dad hung up the phone.
His father shook his head slightly and they returned to Bob’s room.
‘I just spoke to Birmingham General Hospital,’ he said quietly ‘I told them what happened, they said I could drive him there tomorrow.’
Their mother gave their father a loving and grateful smile. ‘I’ll begin to make some dinner.’ She said and left the room.
Dick watched as his father sat down in the chair his mother had just left.
‘Don’t you have homework?’ His father asked with a small smile. Dick nodded and left.
Bob woke up in his own room, his own bed, that in itself was a surprise. The last thing he remembered was hitting the pavement of the station floor, counting the flattened wads of chewing gum. He glanced around his room and saw his father sitting in a chair next to his bed.
‘My orders said—’ Bob began but his father interrupted him.
‘Don’t worry son.’ He said obviously having anticipated what Bob was about to say. ‘I rang up the hospital and explained. I can drive you there tomorrow morning.’
They sat in silence for a while, the only light in the room came from the outside. His father gave a small cough before he spoke again.
‘Son, we’re very glad and thankful to the Almighty to have you back with us. Many families we know were not so blessed.’ He said quietly.
Bob closed his eyes and took a deep breath ‘yeah, dad, I know.’
‘When that first telegram came, believe me, Robert, I wanted to go somewhere and die too. So did your mother.’ His father was looking out the window as he said it.
Bob frowned ‘what telegram?’ his father turned to Bob’s bedside table and turned on the lamp, he then reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out two pieces of yellow papers that seemed to have been folded and unfolded often, he looked at the papers for a second and handed one of them to Bob. Bob turned from his father to the papers and a particular phrase jumped out ‘your son, PFC Robert Sherman 1920… was killed in action in Germany on 12 April, 1945…etc.’ Bob read the words and felt his anger rise.
‘Those stupid, criminal sons-a-bitches sent you this?’ He asked angrily.
His father raised an eyebrow at the swearing but said nothing and handed Bob the other paper. Bob read it and looked at his father ‘you see, son, they were deeply sorry for the error. They corrected their mistake over the weekend.’ His father’s voice began to shake ‘but for a while there, I thought we were all going to go crazy.’ He began to sob and Bob reached out to take his father’s hand ‘we really thought we had lost you, sonny. We all just wanted to die too.’ Bob tugged his father’s hand and pulled him into a hug.
They sat like that for a long time, eventually they broke apart and his father got up. ‘I’ll let you mother and Dickie know you are awake.’ Bob nodded and his father left his room.
After his dad had left his room Bob looked around his room. Everything looked so different. The door opened slowly and Dick peeked into the room.
‘You can come in you know’ Dick came into the room and sat down in the chair their father had just left.
They were silent for a moment then Dick trying to sound happy said ‘What were you saying about medals?’ Bob smiled and pointed to his jacket across the room.
‘Grab my jacket.’ Dick did as he was told and sat down in the chair again.
‘Wow, seven medals. What’s this one for.’
Dick chuckled ‘Of cause it is.’
Bob could see that Dick was debating something. ‘What is it?’
Dick’s smile slipped. ‘I’m glad you’re alive, it was awful, mom and dad, they were, broken.’
Bob nodded ‘Dad told me. Although it could have been true.’ Dick looked at Bob sharply
‘What do you mean?’
‘They didn’t tell you?’
‘While they were removing shrapnel from my knee, I died on the table.’ Dick looked slightly sick.
‘Don’t tell mom and dad. I don’t want them to worry more then they already do.’ Dick nodded.
‘Listen I’m getting really tired.’ Dick got up from the chair
‘Welcome home Bob.’ He said and left the room.
Dick went into the living room and found his parents sitting together talking quietly.
‘He’s asleep.’ He said and sat down in one of the chairs and pulled his knees up to his chest.
‘What’s the matter Richard?’ asked his mother.
‘Just something Bob said.’
‘What did he say?’ asked his father
‘He said that he died while they were operating on his knee.’ Dick looked up at his parents and saw their shocked expressions.
A scream from Bob’s room made Dick’s father jumped up and rushed to Bob’s room and Dick followed. Bob was thrashing around and their father tried to calm him down.
‘Bobbie, wake up son you’re just dreaming.’ Bob’s eyes snapped open and Dick was amazed by his father’s reaction as he caught Bob’s fist before it made contact with his face.
Bob was breathing heavily while their father kept hold of Bob’s clenched hand. ‘You’re home son.’ He said softly and Dick walked into the room slowly and noticed that Bob was shaking.
‘Sorry.’ Muttered Bob before he noticed his hand and slowly removed his hand from his father’s grasp.
He took a few shaking breaths and his father turned to Dick ‘Go and see to your mother.’ Dick looked at Bob before he left the room and closed the door.
‘What happened?’ asked his mother worriedly as he came back to the living room.
‘Nightmare I think. Dad’s with him.’
After Dick had left the room Bob began to shake even more and his father noticed tears fall. ‘It’s alright’ he said and put an arm around his son.
Bob shook his head ‘We saw the Kraut soldiers leave a camp and we made our way there.’ He paused ‘It was an extermination camp. It was horrible, the smell it, it’ he took a deep breath ‘those prisoners were in such bad shape like walking corpses.’ Bob put his head in his hands.
His father moved to sit on the bed and hugged his son. After a while Bob tensed and grabbed at his left knee.
‘Are you in pain?’ asked his father worried.
Bob nodded tensely. ‘They didn’t give you something for the pain?’
‘They did. But I was supposed to go to the hospital remember.’
‘Yes, I remember, but you decided to take a nap on the station floor instead.’ Bob laughed but winced shortly after.
‘What can I do?’
Bob laid down and clenched his hands into fists. ‘Nothing. I’ll endure, don’t worry.’
‘Difficult not to worry when we only just learnt that you actually died on the table.’
Bob groaned. ‘I told him not to tell you.’
‘you can’t blame him. He missed you and he was as much a mess as your mother and I, though he tried not to be.’
‘I’ll try not to scream like that again.’
His father patted him on the shoulder. ‘Call if you need us okay.’ Bob gave a half smile as his father left.
Bob woke up a few hours later as Dick came into his room. ‘You doing okay?’
‘Mom made dinner.’
Bob nodded and with a wince he got out of bed and together with his brother they went to the kitchen. They sat down and their father began to say grace. As he did Bob could feel his anxiety began to creep back. Dick nudged his elbow, Bob glanced at him and took a deep breath. As they began to eat Bob could feel himself relax at the normalcy of it all.
Later that night Dick crept out of his room to get something to drink then he heard his parents talk about Bob.
‘I’m worried about him.’ Said his mother
‘So am I dear, I told Richard to go back to the living room because I didn’t think Robert would have liked him to see him like that.’
‘He saw one of those camps that the Nazis made. It sounds unreal. It’s no wonder he has nightmares.’
Dick frowned but kept listening. ‘It’s a good thing we left Europe when we did.’ Said his father slowly.
There was silent for a moment and Dick was about to move on when his father said ‘He broke down.’
Dick stopped and turned to look at the door to Bob’s room.
As Dick made his way back to his room he saw Bob limping down the hall while using the wall for support.
Bob turned his head ‘Hey Dick,’
‘Need a hand?’ Bob shook his head.
Dick watched for a moment before going over to his brother. ‘shouldn’t you be using crutches?’ Bob shrugged and stumbled.
Dick grabbed Bob’s arm and helped him stand more securely.
‘Bathroom.’ Muttered Bob.
As Dick helped Bob back to his room he asked again ‘Why not use crutches?’
‘Vanity maybe.’ Bob sat down on his bed and looked at his brother. ‘I suppose I just didn’t want you all to see me as a cripple.’ He said quietly.
‘We don’t.’ said Dick
‘Night Bob’ Dick left his brother’s room and as he laid in bed he thought about the day. The happiness of seeing his brother again, the moment of panic as Bob passed out in front of them and the shock of the information Bob had told him and he had overheard. ‘you’re not a cripple,’ he said to himself as he turned over in his bed ‘you’re a hero.’ He whispered as he went to sleep.