General Fiction posted February 8, 2015


Exceptional
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the fallout of war

Remembering

by mfowler


'Oh, gid-day, mister,' I say to the stranger, 'my mother made these for ya. Sort of hello and welcome to the neighbourhood.' He looks tired like an old seal wiping his face with a flipper.
 
'Sorry, son. Been sleeping...Now, what's this, your mother made scones for me. How about that? No-one's ever welcomed me anywhere before...Come in. ' I can see inside. Hanging on the wall is a rifle and above it one of those digger's hats that Aussie soldiers wear.
 
'No,..no thanks, mister, I just wanted to give you the scones.'
 
'Got a name, kid?'
 
'Yeah, Matty...Matt to friends.'
 
'Call me Connor, Matt. I'm renting this place for awhile. Sure you won't come in. I don't know too many people in this town.' I agree, but only for a minute.
 
There's photos everywhere. Mostly army stuff. Connor with his arms around mates. One of him sporting a medal. The gun looks complicated, but old, just like Connor. 'Are you a soldier, Connor?' I ask, although the question seems redundant.
 
He laughs. 'Nah, Matt. Was a soldier. Nam. Vietnam. First Royal Australian Regiment. Have you learnt about that war at school?'
 
'I think we're doing Vietnam War in history soon. But, war's not a good topic in my house. It's my Dad, see. Died two years ago in Afghanistan.'
 
'I'm sorry, kid. That's nasty. We won't mention it.'
 
'It's OK, Connor. My mother doesn't talk about it because she's angry. He had a chance to get out of the army, but he loved being a soldier. He signed up again, went to war, and died.'
 
'Your mother has a right to be angry. I would be if I were her.' I feel a little peeved. This guy doesn't know my Dad. Hell, I'm proud of him.
 
'I gotta go.' I say, 'Nice meeting you.'
 
'I'm sorry, son. Not my business to have an opinion.' He's right about that.
 
'It's OK. I wish Mum would remember him as a hero..like I do. He died in a flash fight trying to protect a group of refugees.'
 
'War's a complex thing, Matt. Your mother wanted your father at home. Now he's dead, and so is everything she'd probably hoped for.' He's right, I guess, but it feels funny having a stranger talking about it.
 
'Where's your wife?' I ask abruptly.
 
'Never got married. I came back from Nam in pretty bad shape. I got over the wounds, but I haven't functioned too well as a human being for a long time. Nor have me mates. We saw some pretty horrible stuff.'
 
'But, you're OK now?'
 
'Good days, bad days. Depends on the meds. War isn't over just because you come home and gone back to wearing civies.' I'd never thought of it like this before. I think about Mum's anger and the two sons who'll never see their dad again. He's talking about us.

<><><><><> 

'Took your time over at the neighbours?' Mum says, 'Nice family.'

'Yeah, got talking. Sorry. He,.. they liked the scones.'

'Good. I've got cucumbers about to ripen. Maybe you could take them over in a couple of days. Don't want them to think I'm being nosey. Did you catch their name?'
 
'Connor,' I think.
 
'Nice Irish name. Your great Aunty was Irish. I guess they wouldn't know her. It's good for you to take the lead like that, Matty. You're the man of the house now that...., now, that you're in high school.'
 
'You can say his name, Mum. He's dead. Not a ghost.' She starts crying again.
 
'I'm sorry, Matty. When I'm ready, eh. Be kind to me.' Two years is a long time in my life. I don't know when she'll ever be ready to face what happened.

<><><><><> 

Mrs Baumgartner, the History teacher, smiles and asks, 'Do any of you know what's significant about 2015 for Australians?' She scans the room and picks on Tony Barone who's staring out the window.
 
'Asian Cup. Yeah, we won the Asian Cup in soccer. Easy.' He looks at her as if he's answered the million dollar question on that TV show.
 
'No, Tony. It's the hundredth anniversary of Gallipoli.'
 
'Aw, yeah. Gallipoli. I never heard of that club, Miss. Sounds Italian.'
 
'Gallipoli's in Turkey. It was there in a battle for a peninsula in 1915, that Australia won the respect of the world and took on the ANZAC tag that Australians take pride in.'
 
'They kick those Turkeys in the butt, Miss?' says Tony uninvited.
 
'Not exactly, Tony. In fact we lost this battle. Many died, but along with the New Zealand and British soldiers who fought there, our diggers forged a reputation for courage and survival that Australians admire today.'
 
'My family's going there for the celebrations on April 15.' says Mary Neagle, 'My great grandfather died at Lone Pine. My father says we should mark his life with an act of respect.' The class listen closely but my thoughts drift to images of  Dad lying by the roadside in some frozen nowhere land.

<><><><><> 

'Hi, Connor. My Mum says you can have some cucumbers.' Connor is pleased to see me.
 
'Your Mum seems to think I'm hungry,' he says, smiling widely.
 
'Connor,' I ask abruptly, 'that medal in the photo, well, is it yours?' Connor looks at me as if I've sworn at him.
 
'Yeah, it's mine. Lost two good mates getting that trinket.'
 
'So, why did they give it to you?' Connor says nothing and thanks me for the cucumbers. I need to leave.

<><><><><> 

My meeting with Connor has me curious. The medal. I have to know more. My Google search reveals the answers. The guy's got a VC, a Victoria Cross. That makes him a ridgy-didge hero in anybody's books. It's the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy in countries from the British Commonwealth. Mum pops her head around the corner.
 
'How did the Connors like the cucumbers?'
 
'No. Mum, there's only one Connor. You must have misunderstood me.'
 
'One. Why so sneaky about it, Matty?'
 
'He's military, Mum. And..you know how you are about military.' She's horrified.
 
'It's OK. Why's he here if he's a soldier?'
 
'He's ex. Vietnam. He's sort of sick from the war. Takes meds. But..., Mum, he's a fair dinkum Aussie hero. He's got a Victoria Cross.' She's underwhelmed. I'm not to go over there again. Something about glorifying war.
 
Then I find it. 'Sergeant Connor Briggs received the Victoria Cross today, May 22, 1969, for valour beyond the call of duty. Sergeant Briggs single-handedly rescued three fellow soldiers under heavy fire from the Viet-Cong; the rescue undertaken after the rest of his platoon was wiped out.'

<><><><><> 

April arrives and the media is full of stories about the ANZACS. Mrs Baumgartner encourages us all to go to a Dawn Service to remember the fallen on ANZAC Day. Mary has just left for Europe. I'm a little jealous, but I'd be pretty happy if I could go to the ceremony. Mum won't even let me broach the subject.
 
Today, I'm going back to see Connor. Ask him why he's not stoked to be a VC winner. I sneak out before dusk.
 
'Hello, Connor. My Mum sent these ANZAC biscuits over for you,' I lie, knowing full well that I bought them at the bakery.
 
'Anzac biscuits. Hmm. OK, come in. We'll share them.'
 
'You're looking better, Connor.'
 
'Country air seems to agree with me.'
 
'I know about your Victoria Cross,' I blurt out. Connor covers his eyes with those flippers.
 
'Google, huh?'
 
'Afraid so.'
 
'I didn't want to talk about it because that's what kicks off the flashbacks. I have to avoid stress, see. Nam's sucked my life away.'
 
I console him the best I can. 'Why don't you come to the Dawn Service with me?' The question seems stupid in the face of what he said. 'Maybe, that might help?'

<><><><><> 

Despite her protests, Mum allows me to attend the ceremony. She knows I just want to honour my father.
 
It's a cool morning on April 25. About eighty people, including Mrs Baumgartner and some kids from school are there. We gather round the soldier memorial in the town square. The old soldier in charge calls for troops to 'stand to'. A small group of people come to attention in the half light. A bugler plays the Last Post. I get goose-bumps and nearly cry. Dad loved the Last Post.

After the Reveille, the sun appears. I see the wreaths lying at the foot of the memorial. The people drift away, but there's a man in full uniform looking at me. 'Thank you, Matt. You reminded me. I had to get out of my own misery and acknowledge who I was. Maybe, it'll help.'
 
Later, I take Connor home to meet Mum and my brother, Tim. It's time.
 
'Nice to meet you, Mr Briggs. Come in. Matty tells me that you like ANZAC biscuits. I've just made a batch.'

 


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Thanks to Wiki
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders "who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations" and "the contribution and suffering of all those who have served." Observed on 25 April each year, Anzac Day was originally to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs.

In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of an Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the Allied navies. The ANZAC force landed at Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Army. At the end of 1915, the Allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. The Allied casualties included 8,709 from Australia, and 2,721 from New Zealand.

Though the Gallipoli campaign failed, the actions of the Australian and New Zealand troops during the campaign bequeathed an intangible but powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as an "Anzac legend" became an important part of the national identity in both countries. This has shaped the way their citizens have viewed both their past and their understanding of the present.

Digger's hats: The slouch hats worn by Australian soldiers synonymous with those worn by troops in the trenches in WW 1. Hence the name digger, after the digging in for battle.

Anzac biscuits: Oats, honey and other secret ingredients make up a traditional biscuit popularly eaten around Anzac Day.
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