New Mexico – July 1945
I parked the 1941 forest green Ford Coupe in front of a small house and turned it off. The house was peach-colored, with a rose trellis on the side. A white picket fence with a gate went all the way around this cozy home.
Getting out of the car, I straightened my brown Army uniform and adjusted the tie before putting on my hat. I looked at the front door, steeling myself for what I was about to do. I had rarely done things like this, but I felt like I owed a debt to a friend, and I was determined to see this through.
The front door opened, and a little boy about five or six came out and hopped down the steps. He stopped when he saw me, tilting his head slightly. Swallowing hard, I walked around the car and over to the gate. “Hello,” I said to him, smiling.
“Hi,” he said shyly.
“Is this the Massey house?” I asked.
“Uh-huh. I’m Govan.”
Opening the gate, I walked over and knelt in front of him. “Hello, Govan. That’s an unusual name.”
“It’s my granddad’s name.”
“What’s your name?”
“My friends call me Ares.”
Govan laughed. “That’s a funny name.”
“It is, isn’t it?” I laughed with him. “Are your parents at home?”
“Mommy is inside, taking care of my little brother, James. But Daddy is at work.”
“Well, that works out well because it’s your mother I came to see.”
“I’ll go get her,” Govan said before turning and running back into the house.
I stood up and waited patiently. A redheaded woman in her thirties appeared in the doorway. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“Are you Cora Davidson Massey?”
“Yes, I am. Who are you?”
Walking over to her, I held out my hand. “My name is Lieutenant Ares, ma’am. I served in the 193rd with your brother, Lt. James Davidson.”
She looked confused for a moment, then a look of understanding crossed her face. “You mean Leonard,” she replied. “He didn’t go by James, even though that was his first name. We always called him by his middle name.”
“I always called him Davidson. Easier to remember last names than first names.”
“Would you like to come in?” Cora said. “I can put on a pot of coffee. I don’t want to leave the boys in here by themselves too long.”
“That would be great, thank you.”
I followed her inside, and she closed the door behind me. We navigated the minefield of toys in the living room and entered the kitchen. A playpen sat off to one side, and a chubby little boy sat in the middle of it, a wooden block gripped in one hand. He looked up when we walked in and smiled at his mother. Govan stood next to the pen, about to drop in more blocks. “Govan, he has enough blocks in there right now,” his mother admonished him gently. “Why don’t you go into the other room and play?”
“Okay, Mommy,” Govan replied. He took the blocks in his hands and ran off.
“Please, have a seat. It will take a few minutes for the coffee to be ready.”
“I’m in no hurry, ma’am,” I assured her.
Sitting down, I watched her take a tin of coffee out of the cabinet and put water in the metal percolator. Then she added the grounds to the metal strainer before sticking it inside, turning on the gas burner, and putting the pot on top of the flames. “So Lieutenant, what can I do for you?” she asked as she grabbed two coffee cups and saucers.
I shifted nervously in the chair. “Your brother saved my life a couple of months before he died.”
Cora’s eyes widened in surprise. “I had no idea,” she said quietly. “In his letters, he never talked much about the actual fighting. He talked about some of the places he had been, interesting people he had met. His descriptions were so detailed that I felt I was right there with him at times.”
“The rare times we were able to get away, we would borrow a Jeep and venture into the towns. Granted, they did suffer some damage from the constant shelling, but if you knew where to look, you could still find beautiful spots. We didn’t get out much those last few months, though. We were entrenched around Bastogne for winter.”
“You said he saved your life?” Cora said.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “It was before Thanksgiving. Our group was taking heavy fire from a German patrol. One of the guys in a forward foxhole was killed, and our captain ordered me to take his place. I was zigzagging my way to the location when the enemy opened up on me from the treeline. I took a direct hit to my left knee and my right arm before I went down. Your brother saw it happen. He ordered a few guys to cover for him.”
The whistling pot interrupted me, and Cora got up to remove it from the burner. Turning off the burner, she poured two cups and brought them to the table. “Cream or sugar?” she asked me.
“No, ma’am, thank you, though,” I replied. “You get used to drinking it plain on the front lines.”
She picked up the sugar bowl and brought it to the table, putting a couple of teaspoons in her own coffee. “So what happened after Leonard ordered the cover fire?”
“He left his safe spot and made his way to where I had gone down. Grabbing the back of my jacket, he dragged me to the nearest open foxhole. He treated my wounds as best he could; our supplies were limited, but he managed to find a couple of bandages. The captain yelled at him to take my place in the forward location, but your brother refused to leave me. We had to wait until nightfall before he could safely move me to the rear to be taken care of by the medics.”
“Did Leonard get into trouble for disobeying orders?”
I took a drink of coffee. “The captain did yell at him, but your brother asked him what he would have done if the roles had been reversed. ‘Would you have left a man there to bleed to death if you knew you could save him?’ The captain just looked at him for a minute, then turned and walked away. Don’t misunderstand; our captain was a good man. He would have done anything for us, and he did, to be honest. He went to bat for us more times than I can count. Your brother knew that, that’s why he felt confident enough to say what he did.”
“It sounds like he is a good man.”
I nodded sadly. “He was, ma’am. He was killed in action in March. I’ve already been to see his family in Texas.”
“We lost two other men to this war,” Cora replied. “Harold Massey, a cousin, on my husband’s side of the family, was killed in Italy in the summer of ‘44. Then my nephew, Ellis Davidson, died in the Philippines less than a month after Leonard.”
“I’m very sorry for your losses, ma’am,” I said, placing my hand gently on top of hers for a moment.
“Were you with Leonard when he…when he was killed?”
“Yes, ma’am, I was. We were in Flamizoulle. Our job was to keep the Bastogne corridor open. We ran into heavy mortar, tank, and artillery fire. Leonard was killed during the ensuing battle. I promise, he didn’t suffer.”
Her eyes glistened with tears as she looked at little James in the playpen. “He never got to meet the baby. I named him for two of my favorite brothers; both of them are gone now.”
“He read your letters to me,” I replied. “He was thrilled about your little boy and loved the fact that you named him James.”
“That is so good to know,” she said as she wiped her tears away.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with her, talking about her brother, and playing with the boys. She walked me to my car, baby James in her arms, and gave me a hug. “Thank you so much for coming by to tell me your story,” Cora said. “Will you be returning to battle?”
“Yes, ma’am, in a couple of weeks. I have a few more stops to make before I go back to Europe.”
“Please take care of yourself. You are welcome here anytime.”
I was speechless for a moment. “That’s very kind of you.” I looked at James in her arms and gently stroked his cheek. “Grow up and do wonderful things, young man. You carry the name of a good man.” I glanced at Govan, who was standing by the gate. “Same goes for you. Your uncle will be watching over you always.”
Govan gave me a jaunty salute, which I returned. Cora walked over to stand by him and waved to me as I drove away. I breathed a sigh of relief that things had gone so well. But I had one more place to go.
The next day, I stood in front of my friend’s grave in Belgium. I saluted, then knelt. “Well, Davidson, I kept my promise to you. I went to see your sister and her family. She is a wonderful woman, and her two sons are adorable.” I took a deep breath. “There’s no way that you could have known that I’m immortal and that I wouldn’t have died from my injuries. What you did for me that day…very few men, with the exception of my family, would have risked their lives for me. My greatest regret is that I was unable to save your life, my friend. If I could have, I would have done it. You were one of the bravest men I have ever met.”
I stood up and looked at the hundreds of graves in the cemetery. “You were all brave men,” I said. “It was an honor to go into battle with you. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. May it not have been in vain.”
I snapped to attention, slowly raised my arm to my forehead, and saluted the brave soldiers lying quietly in the ground. Then I lowered my arm, touched the headstone of my friend, and walked away.
A note from Ares’ scribe: Lt. James Leonard Davidson was killed January 7th, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge. While I am unsure of the exact details of his death, I do know that he died defending the town of Flamizoulle, Belgium. His nephew, James, was my father.
For Leonard, Harold, Ellis, my father, who did a tour in Vietnam, and the millions of men who have served, thank you for your service. You will always hold a special place in my heart.