Fated to Be Friends
Sunday, July 1, 2007
George Serkedakis and Ken Myers may have been in their last parade.
They rode together on Memorial Day in a parade in the District, a couple of elderly vets of the Battle of the Bulge in a ceremonial Jeep. But Myers is closing in on 87, and Serkedakis, at 93, is finding it harder to muster the energy. They have nothing planned for the Fourth of July; neither is sure he will make it to the 99th Infantry Division Reunion in September.
"I was really scared he was going to fall out of that Jeep," says Serkedakis's wife, Faye, 70, on recalling her husband's last public excursion. "They are slowing down now, for sure."
But even as they bow, finally, to the inevitable struggles of age, the two still make a point of getting together. It has been more than 30 years since they rediscovered one another, but they still thrive on rehashing the remarkable fate that brought them together twice. Once on a blood- and snow-covered battlefield in Belgium, where one saved the life of the other, saved it against the direct orders of an Army doctor who had already consigned the wounded soldier to a Belgian grave. And again, three decades later, in a traffic jam in downtown Washington.
They meet regularly, as they did last week in Serkedakis's Silver Spring living room, simply to tell each other The Story.
* * *
It's easier to start with Serki's side of the tale. He doesn't remember much.
In December 1944, Cpl. George Serkedakis was only a few weeks into Europe. Riding shotgun in an infantry truck, he and the 99th were moving fast across France and Holland through deep snow and killing cold. It was six months after D-Day, and the Allies had been steadily pushing Hitler back toward the Fatherland. Now the Germans turned to make one last ferocious stand in Belgium.
Serkedakis, the 30-year-old owner of a Greek diner on Capitol Hill, was riding right into the teeth of the Battle of the Bulge.
"I didn't have a gun. I had a bazooka," he recalled. He still has the soft eyes and placid smile of the young soldier who stares up from the faded photographs on his coffee table. "We came into the village, and the Germans were coming in with six tanks."
Serkedakis isn't sure exactly where he was. He remembers getting off a round that exploded on one of the panzers. And then, nothing. A blissful void that has spared him the lifelong memory of what it's like to have the top of your skull shot away.
He doesn't know how many hours passed before a scrap of consciousness returned. With a colossal effort, he raised his head from the snow. Two figures moved through the weak gray of the winter morning. They were working on another man. But finally one of them turned his way. And he let his face fall back into the cold.