As promised, here are the adult winners from our “Secrets: The mysteries behind unidentified photography” essay contest!
1st Place Adult Category
He looked at the car. It was a sharp number. Sharper than he remembered. But was it real? Was he really looking at the car for which he had sent money home? Sometimes his time overseas did not seem real and this day did not even seem real. It was as if he was looking at a ghost – something he thought he would never actually see. He never thought he would survive that hell and yet, here he was looking at his new car while his younger buddy Lenny Sharpe took his picture.
He remembered Frank Walters showing a picture of his car while they sat in their foxhole. Snow was floating down on to the cold, hard ground. It fell down into the hole that they scraped and clawed at as bullets whizzed overhead. Now they sat in that hard hole, watching the flakes mingle in the silent darkness. Frankie nudged him and showed him a picture of his car. Leaning up against a nice looking car with arms crossed, Frankie just looked natural. But Herb never really looked natural. Tall, blocky and awkward. He noticed the window was down and propped his elbow there. The rest of his body followed and he was leaning on his new car.
“There ya go. All right now, smile!”
Lenny. He was a good kid, eager to go fight the Germans or the Japs. He even tried enlisting on more than one occasion but the recruiter found out Lenny’s age and because he was too young, would not let him enlist. “I’d ‘ave been good too! You’ve seen me with a rifle.” Herb just smiled and agreed when Lenny first said that. The problem was, when Lenny shot at cans in the pasture, the cans were not shooting back. The cans did not want nothing more than to kill him. “Hey, you alright?”
Herb snapped out of it. He had been doing that more and more lately. “Yeah,” he replied, “I’m alright.” Herb looked back at the car. All those months of sending his paychecks home to pay for it. At first, his plan was to send his money for his mother and father. When he told his mother she replied with a sharp “No.” He remembered her looking at him and saying, “Herb, you’re doing something great for this country. The least you can do is use what you’ve earned for your own desires. Don’t worry about us. Your father and I have made it on this farm through worse, believe you me.” A smile creased her stern face and she ran her hands over his shoulders, smoothing them out. She then picked a piece of lint and took a look at her son the soldier. She had seen her son the schoolboy and son the farmer. But now he was a soldier, or at least going to be. Once he started up this car she would meet her son the veteran.
“Yup, pretty slick wheels there, Herb. A regular Spartan with his chariot!” said Lenny.
Yup, thought Herb, a real Spartan. And just like a Spartan he and his buddies held their line against attack after attack. Holding the line and fighting back. Until someone yelled to move up, that they had the Germans on the run. Men hoisted themselves out of their holes firing. Germans ran and American troops ran after them. He remembered shaking the achiness from his cold knees as he ran from his foxhole. A German tripped and Herb nearly stumbled over him without realizing it. Herb had his rifle pointed at the German’s face. Was it the blood surging back to his extremities that made his finger twitch? Or was it remembering from two days before watching Jimmy Knutson, Bernie Patterson, and Bob Sheefer get taken out by the same artillery round all at once? Or was it just reaction? Either way, his finger pulled the trigger sending the bullet down the barrel into the German’s face – casting it into oblivion. He smiled, thought Herb. I had that gun pointed at his face and I swear he grinned at me. And then I shot him. He was just a kid. A hand had grabbed his shoulder and Herb wheeled around ready to shoot until he saw it was Lieutenant Fields, his platoon commander. “That’s one down, Stevenson, and a whole lot more to go. Now move!”
“So, you gonna name her?”
“Hm?” asked Herb, realizing he had done it again.
“I said are you going to name her?”
“Oh, I’m not sure yet. Maybe.”
He had dark brown eyes.
“You sure you’re okay?”
Why do I keep seeing him? All the people I must have killed yet he still remains.
“Ah, yeah…yeah I’m alright. Sorry, it’s just… well I just got home and, the car and…well…”
“Ha! Not a problem. Here I am keeping you from takin’ her out and seein’ your family. I’ll tell ya it wasn’t easy holding on to this for ya ‘til ya came back but, I managed to not drive her around. Keys are right there in the front seat. I know you wanna go home but hey ring me up sometime and we’ll go fishin’ or somethin’.”
Herb nodded. “Yeah,” he finally said, “yeah I’ll get a hold of you once I’m settled in.”
“Well, hey, take it easy war hero. Glad to have ya back.”
They shook hands and Herb got into his new car. So many times he just wanted nothing more than to go home and now he was home. This fantasy of home and car was real. He thought of all the guys who never made it back and suddenly he felt sick sitting behind the wheel.
“Hey, Lenny? You mind driving me back home?”
“Ha! Sure thing! Move over and I’ll show ya how it’s done.”
Herb took off his hat and down the dusty road they went.
Honorable Mention Adult Category
Jessica Vande Vorde
Little do they know the man in the picture. People laugh, smile, and cheer noisily. Little do they know the man in the picture seated on a donkey in a soldier’s uniform with a plastered grin on his face. As the tears stream down my cheeks as I stifle a sob.
This man was a hero, but was now lying in pool of his own blood from the bar fight that happened moments ago. Still, the cheering and the guffaws rake and slice through the cool evening air. They do not even know his name. With a deep breath, memories come rushing in one after another.
The day Tom and I first met occurred when I was walking to school, being careful to step around the puddles from the recent rainfall. As I slipped and came precariously close to falling face down into a gigantic pool of water, I was caught from behind by a pair of strong hands.
“Careful,” came the reply as I looked into a pair of blue eyes, a crooked smile, and a kind face.
“What’s your name?” was the question that came from his lips.
“Jenny, my name is Jenny,” I replied at once.
We were both 17 in the year of 1958. From then on Tom Brandy and I became the best of friends. I watched him succeed in sports, college, and the army. And on this very night Tom proposed to me. But our happy moment was cut short as a brawl ensued across the street between two drunken men over a teenage girl.
Tom stepped in to intervene, but was hit on the back of the head with a brick. As I watched the life seep away from his eyes the boisterous laughter grew in volume. One thought came to mind as Tom’s picture from his army days fluttered on the wind away from my bloodstained hands. Little do they know the man in the picture whose kindness, love, and pride in his country that he served in the army for these men’s freedom; whose qualities were as black as tar and as far from Tom’s morals as daylight.
Little do they know the man in the picture, who heaved one last sigh tired and pained from life’s closure; and walked the descending staircase to his cold, hard grave on the rough cobblestones.