46, Silver Spring, deputy editor, WP Magazine
Among the things my father brought back from the Korean War was a wooden box, which requires seven steps to open. The sides of the box slide or lift, and when you get to the tiny drawer inside, there is enough space for a single letter, a few snapshots or dog tags, say. But he never kept anything in it.
My father was 21 when he returned home, but he spent the rest of his life reflecting on his experiences in the war. The story he told the most was about being on a transport train in Korea, soon after arriving from Japan. Just before it pulled out, a gray-haired Army chaplain came through the aisle with a chalice and wafers for Communion. None of the soldiers refused him. The chaplain recited Bible verses over the awful squeak of his boots. By then, my father said, a stark realization was setting in. Before long some soldiers started to whimper. Even the toughest guys began “bawling,” he said. The Communion had the semblance of last rites.
When the train began to move, my father could see the chaplain running alongside, handing wafers to the soldiers stretched out the windows until he became a faint, green dot. After that, “we understood, finally,” my father said. “We understood what this was about. And all we could do was wait.”
The intricacies of war, the layers.
My father’s gone now, and my younger son, Anderson, likes to open the box. There’s still nothing inside the drawer, but that’s not why we keep opening it.
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