Returning to Bastogne for the first time fifty years after the war, Jack finds kindred spirits in
other veterans attending the reunion.

Le Nut’s Tavern


       It is late in the day and light fog is giving way to misty rain over the central town square, renamed Place Général McAuliffe after the American general who commanded the American forces in Bastogne during the battle. On the square sits Le Nut’s, the watering hole that honors the concise declaration that McAuliffe uttered at a pivotal moment of the battle. Inside, the veterans all have glasses of beer before them at various stages of consumption, except for Jack Prior, whose glass of red wine is untouched. The room is subdued as Maurice Ravel’s melancholy  masterpiece “Pavane for a Dead Princess” plays on the tavern radio. It weaves a contemplative spell that would spare only men made of wood.
       Several of the veterans are talking quietly with those sitting nearest to them. Jack seems to
be in deep dialogue with himself, while staring intently at his hands clasped tightly before  
him on the table. Though he has relived many times the events of that Christmas Eve fifty years ago, he is surprised at how potent the memories have become here in Bastogne. Now, just a block away  from the site of the wrecked aid station, the swirling sounds of grievously wounded men come to him. He makes no effort to suppress them, knowing they will not easily be silenced. Instead, over time, he has learned to embrace them, to comfort them. Once again, the cries of pain are soothed by Jack’s healing touch and slowly fade away.
       “So long ago, but can I still hear them.”
       As he relaxes and his fingers uncoil, Jack looks up and into the eyes of men who served in or near Bastogne when he did. Their conversations had stopped with Jack’s soft utterance, and he smiles at them weakly, almost contritely. When he finally takes a sip of his wine, all gratefully
take a pull on their beers and murmur support and understanding for Jack. They have all heard
more than their share of voices over the years.
       One veteran who goes by the nickname of Sarge, an infantryman Jack treated during the
battle, puts a brotherly hand on his shoulder.
       “Who can you hear, Doc?”
       “Oh, just some of the boys who were in my care... mostly the ones... ”
       A couple of the men assembled know about Jack’s harrowing experiences during the battle.
       “... the ones who didn’t make it.”
       But none of them can truly fathom the anguish and agony Jack felt when, day in and day out,
he was immersed in blood and pain and suffering as he grappled with the dark angel of death. As Jack looks from face to face, he becomes concerned that he is suppressing the mood of the gathering.
       “You didn’t come all this way to hear my sad story.”
       “Well, sure we did, Doc. That’s why we’re all here.”
       Sarge speaks for all of them, evidenced by the nodding of heads in the affirmative around the
table.
       Each of the men present spent decades sparing his family members and friends from the
horrors of war. How could one describe the indescribable? Better to not talk about it at all. Oh,
sure, from time to time they deflected attention by sharing the good times. And there were
some, though they were few and far between. But for years they steadfastly kept the darkness
from their loved ones. At the same time, they rebuffed any efforts to put them on pedestals.
They saw themselves as survivors of the war, not heroes. They just did their jobs in the army
and were lucky enough to dodge bullets. So, for the longest time, they kept their war stories to
themselves and tried, with limited success, to forget about the whole damn thing.

       But now, surrounding Jack at the table are men who not only survived the war. They survived
the peace. Some they knew died later of their wounds. Others surrendered to booze. A few
succumbed to madness. Somehow, these men endured. Here they all stand in Bastogne. They
have come a long way on their lifelong quests to finally feel at home in the world.