The once sturdy frame, now withered from age, leaned into the wind and he made his way unsteadily down the quiet street. His ninety-four-year-old knees ached. These same knees had carried him safely across the island of Sicily. And later, they’d carried him ashore with the U.S. 4th Division at Utah Beach. He’d been wounded twice before Herr Hitler was finally defeated; before the evil that was the Third Reich finally ended. They Army had given him a medal, and President Truman had shaken his hand.
But now, without the help of his old wooden cane, his knees would never be able to make it the two blocks to the bus stop. The was proud, and did not ask for, nor would he accept help from anybody. He was a soldier. Pulling the worn out World War II Veterans’s cap down onto his head, he leaned into the wind, and pushed forward.
It was a daily ritual, this journey to the bus stop. His aching knees would painfully announce their displeasure as he slowly climbed those three stairs up into the bus, paid his fare, and found a seat. The bus driver, Joe, always had a pleasant word to say. He knew Joe pretty well. Those worn out knees had been complaining about climbing up into that same bus every day for almost fifteen years now.
It was a twenty-minute ride to the veteran’s hospital where he would spend the day talking to younger veterans less fortunate than himself. At least he had his knees to remind him he was still alive. Too many of these younger men were missing too many limbs. They hadn’t seen these things called improvised explosive devices back in his day. They had land mines though!
Memories of the horrors of war haunted a brain as sharp as when he’d first landed in Sicily. His hands were gnarled. His back stooped. But, those two eyes still burned, clear and bright. Inside, he was still the same proud, honorable, tough patriot he’d always been.
At eighteen, he’d answered his country’s call and unflinchingly did his duty. His young knees had supported him well as he fought for his country, for freedom, and for the man standing beside him in their shared foxhole. He’d walked across Sicily, France, and into Germany.
He survived being shot twice to return home and marry his high school sweetheart, Rose, and put two children through college. A strong back and two still pretty good knees had gotten him through almost thirty years as an iron-worker.
A widower now, his daughter called a few times a month. Judith lived in Florida. He did not know where his son was, but knew from Judith that John had made it pretty big; in real estate she’d said.
The bus slowed to a stop at the bus stop near the veteran’s hospital. With the help of his cane, his knees were forced to unbend and grudgingly supported his weight. He made his way down the aisle to the door of the bus, nodded to Joe, and listened to his knees bitterly complain as he climbed down the three stairs to the sidewalk. Leaning into the wind, he slowly made his way toward the veteran’s hospital.
A crowd dressed in black was gathered. He’d seen them before, protesting something. He did not know what. They always seemed so angry. Now they even wore masks and carried sticks. The old warrior was unafraid. He had nothing they would want. He adjusted his hat and just leaned into the wind. It was not much farther to the veteran’s hospital entrance.
Hate. He could feel it swirl around him. Black clad figures, hoods and masks, carrying clubs. An angry voice screamed obscenities. Was the voice screaming at him? Stopping, he forced his aching knees to turn and confronted a masked face, eyes filled with hatred. The old man looked into those hate-filled eyes and … smiled. He faced worse evil than a kid with a mask and a stick in his life; faced it down and survived.
Aching knees complained bitterly as he took a single step forward. Gnarled hands gripped the cane just a little tighter. His smile never left his face. He heard a single word screamed at him, “Nazi,” as the stick swung hard. What were they teaching kids in school these days, he wondered.
He saw the blow coming. There was nothing he could do … to old, to slow, to proud, his knees ached so. No point even to try. The old man just leaned into the wind once more.