The last WWII veteran in my family, my dear Uncle Harold, died several years ago. With the passing of the generations goes too the immediacy of the wars of their generations. I have never had visceral experience, not even on the home front; only what was told to me by those who fought, and whose fathers, brothers, and uncles fought: the letters, stories, and memories that offer only hints of what it was like for them.
We live in wartime, but many of us are so removed from the fighting on foreign soil that it doesn't affect our daily lives, except in the political arguments we sometimes engage in from our safe distance. Yet, I know that for many other families here in America, of course, there is not this remove, and their loved ones are "over there." That Sarge, were it not for an accident of age, would have served.
When Sarge and I visited Paris, we spent some hours at the Musee de l'Armee at Les Invalides, where we found a strange little exhibit, an old WWI French Army uniform resting in a glass case. It appeared to be completely caked in dirt. When I bent to read the plaque, I saw that it said, simply, "La Boue de Verdun," the mud of Verdun. I will always think of that uniform, displayed in a corner behind glass, a tangible remnant of the fear, suffering, and the bravery. He was covered in battle, and he saved that muddy uniform carefully for so many many years, and although I don't remember the soldier's name, I remember today that mud, and think of him.