My older brother was a returning hostage after World War II.
An all-out welcome home was scheduled -- he had been held prisoner by the Nazis from the time of the Normany invasion, June 6, 1944, until May 7, 1945, when the war ended in Europe.
He was an infantryman with the 29th Division, an outfit that spearheaded the D-day invasion on Omaha Beach.
His captors were less than gentle, bashing his mouth in with the butt of a rifle.
During his POW days he was put to work in a coal mine, a tough job for a guy who suffered both claustrophobia and a fear of heights. He faced those problems each day as he was forced to make the steep descent in the shaft.
To accomplish this, he was prompted by the point of a bayonet poked into his back.
Finally, the war ended. Upon his release and before the day of his arrival at Camp Devens, Mass., my parents and the rest of the family who were still living at home were given a caution by the Red Cross on how to handle the situation.
They were told not to mention the war or his imprisonment.
This proved unusually difficult, to say the least.
My brother some time later told me how amazed he was when he arrived in the States and sat in the back seat of our car between our parents with two sisters in front, one driving.
"It was about a two-hour drive," he said, "and not one word was mentioned about where the hell I had been for the past couple of years, but they talked about everything else."
When they arrived at the house, all the neighbors were out to greet him, and the small rooms were soon filled with relatives singing, dancing and drinking -- but still no questions about his most recent adventure.
One uncle far into his cups and still speaking in broken English would put his arm around my brother's shoulder and say, "Tell me, Al, what did the s.o.b. Hilter [he couldn't pronounce Hitler] do to you?" Then remembering the Red Cross rules he would say, "No, no, don't tell me."
A brother-in-law on the Irish side of the family would pop a shot of rye and offer my brother a firm handshake and a hug around the shoulders. Then, remembering the rules, he would grimace, stifle a tear, shake his head and walk away without breaking his silence.
By reputation this fellow was a talker, so it was tough on him to be quiet -- and my brother knew it.
As the afternoon progressed, cars would drive up and unload more merrymakers. The small rooms became more and more crowded with yelling kids and happy adults talking loudly. My brother sat relaxed in the living room with a cold beer in his hand feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Rationing was still going on, but somehow my resourceful mother had managed to get a sizable roast that was now sizzling away in the oven. Suddenly, a thin trail of smoke eased out, followed by heavier smoke until the kitchen was filled by it.
Closing the door behind her, she picked up a phone in the bedroom and dialed the fire department. Her message to them became an often-repeated family gem: "Please, my son just got home from a German prison camp and he has to be kept from becoming excited.
"But there is a small fire in the oven and I wonder if you could send one small engine. Don't make any noise and come in the back way."
After giving the address, she set about trying to clear out the smoke. Within minutes, screeching sirens filled the neighborhood -- the locals had responded with everything they had.
Police cars blocked off the ends of the street, firemen tore around unwinding hoses, the street filled up with curious onlookers.
Firemen came running into the house while family and relatives were running out.
My mother was protecting what was left of the roast with her life while, in all the confusion, my brother remained in the living room, the calmest of all, sipping his beer.
The next few days brought more backslapping, handshaking and calls from local veterans' posts for command performances. My brother was very obliging. But he told me later he was delighted to report back to Ft. Bragg and the quietness of an Army barracks.