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Friday, September 11, 2015

Chapter 12- Bill's Student

Bill's Student

“There’s plenty of reality to be faced, by all of us. As for the permanent peace, it’s in our laps now. What are we going to do about it?”

Jack Brooking, the lead in the last play Bill Allen directed.

The following is written by former student, Jack Brooking. It appeared in the Galesburg Register-Mail (date unknown):

Dutch Family Recalls Memories of Sgt. Bill Allen for Brooking

Memorial Day, 1952

Dear Friends,

The great Dutch clock over the doorway has just struck midnight and the old terrier is asleep on the window ledge behind me, his cold nose nuzzling my shoulder.

It is, as of two minutes ago, Memorial Day, 1952.

You must forgive me if I wax nostalgic for it is a strange hour and a strange country and outside a chill wind hints of rain.

You must forgive me because I met up with an old friend today and no matter how much one travels, the unseen forces which bring acquaintances together in a foreign is an ever mysterious and magical thing. All afternoon we were together in the solid Dutch living room with the fancy lace curtains. The terrier sat up begging for candy, a little wobbly now for he is an old dog and his begging days almost gone. The good frau Koene plied me with coffee and practiced her newly acquired English which she had “learned over the wireless.” As warm and cozy an afternoon as one could find on earth.

Memories Come

I had not thought of my old teacher for years and through the course of the afternoon we got reacquainted. He told me of his troop ship pulling into England and all the sights and sounds of that land. The language and money troubles, I could sympathize. The Christmas from “somewhere in Germany” when he found nothing in his stocking Christmas morning but his foot. Hadn’t been out of his socks in months. The floating crap game which had weathered many months and two continents. Yes, it was a singular afternoon, singular because you see, my friend is Sgt. William G. Allen, killed in service on April 19, 1945.

No need to eulogize, come the dawn men all over the world standing on hastily constructed platforms and amidst flower sprays will be taking care of that. I have a feeling I’d be little good at eulogizing, anyhow. Rather I will merely tell you of a day in Holland, just over the German border, when I ran into an old friend in the comfortable brick home of a Dutch family.

I didn’t know Memorial Day was coming up, having absolutely no memory for dates and having lost all track of time this past week anyhow. This morning I crossed over the German-Holland border just out of Aachen. I kept thinking of the four little girls playing skip-the-rope in the rubble of what had once been an apartment house. I changed my few remaining marks into (whatever the Dutch use, I can’t spell it) and hitched a ride to Margraten Cemetery where I knew Sgt. Allen was buried.

Beautiful Spot

It’s a beautiful spot this. High on a hill where the wind catches the 18,000 twin Dutch-American flags whipping them together down row after row of neat crosses. Round about lie the fields of Holland, looking much like our fields at home. You will be happy to know that the guys are content here, I think on the hill. They are well cared for and thought after. They are with their comrades and feel at home.

The sky was gray wash as I headed for Maastrich to look up a hastily scribbled address: the Koene family on Meerssenerweg St. Francis of Allens I thought.

A jolly grey haired frau, who somehow reminded me of a lady who used to sell popcorn next to the West theater, answered the door. This shaggy haired and dusty stranger was welcomed with the glow of Dutch hospitality. Bacon and eggs, a hot bath, great feather bed for the night and from some hidden drawer or shelf Frau Koene produced the book.

This was the book of letters and photographs which Bill’s folks have compiled. And there they were, the great nose, the grin, the words of hope of a man I had almost forgotten.

Don’t fool yourself, one forgets. One has no right to forget the face of a friend, his wit, the cold of a German winter, the anxieties of the war years, the kindness once shown at a moment when kindness was important. But we do. Somehow the memory dims until something suddenly jars it to the surface again. Mine was jarred and I came face to face with a new and greater man than I had remembered. A man who wrote well, because he wrote simply and truthfully.

What Sgt. Allen Said

I watched a school teacher yanked from a GHS study hall and thrust into a new and comical world.

“We were given another of the famous army assembly line physicals in which one doctor looks down our throat, another looks up at through the bottom, and a third says “OK”. I’ve often wondered what the third one would say if the first two hadn’t seen through at each other.”

And he grew by great swift bounds, wondering not so much about what lay ahead as his adjustment to it.

“The physical adjustment is nothing compared with the mental agaony that someone in this life experiences as he prepares himself for what is ahead.”

And again…

“The serious thoughts which we confide in each other as we give thanks that our number has not yet been called for the Final Induction deals rather with what we expect to find when we return to the democratic way of life and trying to find some idealistic expression to justify the vacancies in our ranks.”

Found Other Things

Did he ever find that expression, the great answer? I doubt it, for in this complex world great answers are few and far between. But he found other things even more important; a new and vital brand of religion free of trappings, a new comradeship among men, and the warmth of foreign peoples toward a stranger. And though his trip through Europe was no Cook’s Tour, he left us a new perspective, a few final scattered words.

“I really believe that if I did not have faith that this time some permanent peace can be achieved from the struggle, I wouldn’t have the courage to face what may be ahead of me.”

“If there’s anything an infantryman has learned- it’s to face reality.”

There’s still plenty of reality to be faced, by all of us. As for the permanent peace, it’s in our laps now. What are we going to do about it?

Nestled somewhere in one of his letters, he said, “I think of you people often, and how much you did to make my months in Galesburg among the happiest of my life. I’ll be back again some day…”

I should like to think that today he is.

-- Jack Brooking

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