A red Volkswagen pulls up the driveway; its noisy engine can be heard from a distance. A man gets out, and puts on his jacket. He reaches in his car for something; the owner of the house, who is standing at the door, greets him on the porch.
"Did you have trouble finding your way?" The owner asked.
"Uh, no. Not at all." He smiles.
"Well then, come on in, and have a seat." The elderly man says. "I understand you were looking for someone on the reservation. One that fought in the war?"
"Yes sir, I am a Historian. I am writing a book, and love to hear stories from our veterans, native veterans. From our phone conversation I understand you are decorated soldier."
"How does this work?" The elderly man asked.
"I could ask you a series of questions, or if you want. I could record it."
"That one sounds better, I am no good at answering questions."
"Okay, sure... Just give me a second here," The man digs into his bag and pulls out a recording device. "Just about set, okay... here we go, there. Alright, when ever you are ready sir." He pushes the record button.
The elderly man pauses for a moment, to gather some thought. He looks around at first and then looks out the window and stares into the blue sky...
I have decided to share an inside secret with my family. Little do they know the real truth behind these eyes. I have documented the things I remember, and the dark side of war. I only hope they understand what kind of a man I am, hidden behind a wall I have built. I was never open, or discussed with anyone, until now...
I had a dream once, that we as children of the world would stop all nonsense all of this discrimination. Why do we do this? It saddens me, as I've seen this. Some of our children were taken to go to these residential schools to learn the ways of the white man. To act, talk and dress like him. We could not speak in our own tongue. It makes me think sometimes that I fought for our freedom for nothing, when I heard of a man called Hitler killing thousands, perhaps millions; wiping out our brothers and sisters. What man could do such a thing? God created us with love, not hate. It seemed that God had abandoned us.
I am very old by appearance, seventy-five seems so old. But cancer has taken over my body, as I become ill. I figure I 'd get you to write down a brief history of myself. Since I was never open to my family. They knew that I was in World War II; I just never talked about it. Its not that I don't remember, it's that I want to forget. I've done things I'm not proud of, things I was only told to do. Orders, that's what they were. I was following orders. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking or even talking about it. But my children should know the man I was, and not know who I was when my time comes.
I was born in 1924; I am a resident of the Fisher River Cree Nation. I lived here all my life; I was fortunate that I didn't go to these schools, as young boy I would work with my father. We had a farm, and the chores were enough to keep me busy all day. My grand mother was from England. I never got to know her; she died when I was still a baby. Papa was from here, Fisher River. This was his farm. These days growing up on that farm were probably the best days of my life.
In 1942 I volunteered to go to war as a seventeen year old, I lied about my age. Why volunteer you may ask? I too ask that many times myself. I trained with hundreds, readying for what was the last Great War. We departed from British Columbia on a train, and stopped at every city to pick up soldiers. We would arrive in New York to board a ship to go overseas. On June 6th 1944, Operation Overlord was called. Better known as D-Day.
The invasion was under way. Crossing the English Channel, with thousands of ships, and thousands of planes that filled the night sky. There was nothing like it, everything didn't sink in. Not yet anyway, I'm sorry, it's all just overwhelming to me, those vivid memories. I couldn't imagine what I was about to face. Never in a million years, I wouldn't do the unthinkable.
I can still hear those waves crashing up against the boat. Or at least I think it was waves, those sounds can be bombs on land as we stormed the beaches of Normandy. At first you don't notice what war really is, when you board that boat, sitting there, waiting. Those ships we came across in seem so small as we crash the waves going to shore. They seem to disappear in the fog, some sort of loneliness crept up on me, but it was probably fear.
As we get closer to the shores, there are little pips and funny noises that fill the air. You don't realize your being shot at until the door opens. Splashes of water hits you, comrades fall before you. Thuds that you hear. The funny sounds of zips and zings, which go whizzing by, give me a moment...
Do you want to know what it was like, what it felt like, these images, I can't erase, forgive me for shedding a tear, it, it... God, why would he let this happen? I fought for all humanity, freedom; there was no discrimination among us. We were one fighting for all mankind.
Do you want to know what is what like? Imagine the waves, those awful sounds it makes when bullets hit somebody beside you. With blood redden faces from the soldier who got picked off with a machine gun.
And then you hear those godly screams. Those horrible screams; my heart weeps for my brother who I could not help. But you had to push forward; these were the sounds of battle. These are the sounds of war that haunt me. I live these moments, in my dreams every night. "Forgive me brothers, I wanted too, I wanted, to help." I was fortunate to make it inland, fortunate to be alive. I guess maybe it wasn't my time, not yet, not yet.
We would duck in trenches, as gunfire was all around us. My fellow comrades would return fire without conscience, I was afraid to shoot. I just couldn't bring myself to kill another man; my hands would tremble from the ordeal of the beach, and from what was happening that very moment.
Then it all sank in; I had my moment of weakness, I cried. It was over taking my emotions. I was a grown man, I never cried until that fateful day. As did other's I guess, but at different times... I've killed before, but that was for meat to feed my family. I am a pretty good marksman; I never thought I would point a gun at another human being. My heart pounded, so hard I can feel it thumping in my head. I looked up to heaven and pleaded for God to forgive me... Yes I prayed, for my fellow man I was about to shoot.
From the very moment I pulled the trigger, tears were in my eyes. I watched as the other man I just shot crumble lifelessly. We were ordered; shoot to kill, as we advanced forward, German soldier bodies lay where they were shot. Some were kids no older than sixteen. Children, they were children fighting a man's war. This made me weak even more, I was afraid to look at them after a while, after seeing those kids.
I remember one, I still see him. It still makes me cry. He had eyes as blue as the sky. Just laying there, looking to heaven. I stood there for a moment looking at him. Those eyes, looked so peaceful. He probably was forced to fight; he was probably as scared as I was. I would think, what man would send children to war. I was afraid to shoot after that, this made me more futile. I just couldn't bare it.
That one stays with me, was he the one I shot? Was he the one I killed? These are some of the things that haunt me; these are things that make a man go crazy. I know I am sane, I know I'm okay, because I still weep for my fallen comrades, for those I killed. These are some of the nightmares, which will never go away.
I only wish this was a dream, that I 'd wake up and it was all a dream. The war was never sought, those people never tormented. I wish we all were just fine; this was like Orson Wells play, War of the Worlds. Only we were fighting for this world. I would go with some nights without sleep. Doze off from time to time, merely cat naps. It sounded like thunder rolling off in a distance. I knew it was town's being bombarded with shells. I sometimes thought it was a mistake of ever going to war.
I wished I never went, never saw the ruins of war. The destruction it made on those who lived there in that part of the world. I pitied them, yesterday nor we today. Have not thought how lucky we have it. To never experience a war filled country, our home being blasted with bombs, our children never to be pushed to war. I hated that man Hitler. I wanted to go home, those eyes I saw. The people.
As the war went on, so did I. Following out other orders, missions. I still hated being in that part of the world, watching my fellow man in our regiment die, some who have lived, I went to visit in those make shift tents. Filling them in on what happened in those missions.
I had some great times too. Don't get me wrong. I had moments of laughter there. I got an Indian name from guys who were not Indian. I find that kind of funny, they use to call me chief, but after a few battles with them. They started calling me running bear. Making fun of my last name, from the battlefield. Well, I was always running. I missed those guys, from private Lawrence Bear, to just plain old Running Bear.
I use to think; I just want to go home, but then things changed for me. I never wanted to leave after all. I never wanted to stay in a place so badly it hurt to leave... through those days of the war; I never saw much of women nor even thought of them, we had no time. Do you believe in love at first sight?
I do, on a clouded day, a day filled with wrecking, through pain and sorrow. I saw a glimpse of sunlight; a warm glow filled my blackened heart. When I saw her, the one that stole my heart. Her tender smile that made my heart race, she was a nurse in that country, giving a helping hand. Her brunette hair tucked under her hat. She was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Those thoughts I had, those weakened moments, they were erased by her splendour.
I needed to know her name; I wanted to be with her. I would go and visit my friends at the hospital more often than I should. This one time, I brought flowers. Just for her, she was my morning sunrise, the very to go on living. I walked up to her and asked if I could take her out on a date. She would look at me like I'm crazy.
When she spoke, she had the most wonderful accent. I was instantly drawn to her. She'd give a shy smile and try to turn away. But I was persistent; finally she gave in to my restlessness. I would take her to a restaurant, one where I knew no language. French winery and food, they were beyond me. I only knew a good stew and bannock, one that kokum use to make. She was the one to order for the both of us, I didn't understand French. She would laugh which made me smile.
When she told me her name, it sure went with all her beauty. Amelia, she was the most beautiful thing on this earth. With little time we had, I shared, opened my heart to her. I told her of the vast fields of Home, the farm, and the family. I would give it all up just to stay with her. I loved her. Just give a moment...
Those times I had with her, those precious moments. The love we shared, not a day goes by I don't think of her. The last time we spent together, was a few days before Dieppe. I was in Europe for a few a few months now, and we made passionate love, the day of the picnic, under a tree. She told me she had something to tell me. I had asked her to tell me. But she insisted it be a surprise the next day, before I was to ship out.
I had wondered what was the surprise, maybe she found a way for me to stay, or she had wanted to come back to Canada, come to live in Fisher River. And we can start a family, live on my papa's farm, raise the kids, show them how we live, make them Kokum's favourite dish, stew and bannock.
But the day I was too meet her. I was delayed; I went to the spot where we would meet. She wasn't there, I tried to look for her, but I couldn't find her, it bothered me what she wanted to share so badly. I knew I couldn't go the next day; I was going out on another raid. I couldn't stop thinking about her the whole time.
"Amelia, I'm so sorry. Wait for me... please God. I love her." I thought.
It would be in the raid, that I wasn't all there. My heart that is, the raid was a nightmare; it brought back those other repressing memories of Normandy. Many died that day as we set foot on the beach. Machine gun bullets flying, those zips and the sound it makes when it hits someone. I was one of the lucky ones to advance off the beach, further in we went, but we didn't get far, gunfire broke out again.
We duck in these man made trenches returning fire, reload, and shoot again. These moments were scary; all you hear is rapid gunfire and explosions, more gunfire, screams and gunfire. And then all I remember was a big blast.
I came too, and found myself among dead comrades, I tried to stand up, but I couldn't my body felt numb, the pain sunk in and had made me pass out and when I opened my eyes again, I was in a hospital somewhere. I immediately thought of Amelia. I hoped she was there, to see me. I asked the nurse about her, but she knew nothing of her. I then thought maybe I was dead. I was only dreaming this in heaven, but really, I was dead. I was dead to Amelia.
For all she knew, she probably thought I died in combat. Later on I would be transferred back to England. I would return home to Fisher River, but with a heavy heart. I should have been glad that I survived the war. But I wasn't. I went many nights with out sleep. I thought of her every moment, what was she going to tell me? My mother would make me coco, but I would cry when she gave me. I then told her I was crying because of Amelia. I left her. I didn't want to, I loved her so much.
Sometimes I would cry myself to sleep, as much as the war affected me. It would be losing Amelia that nearly killed me. You see, when you love someone, someone who you are willing to do anything for, to ends of the earth for.
You my friend will find out what is like to love lose and gain, its all part of life. And as for me, well let's just say I fought for her freedom. I loved her so much, so much that I was willing to die for her.
When I said you love, I did. And when I said you lose, that was Amelia. I lost her for a short time. And when I said you would gain, oh, my friend, do believe me. I gained, Amelia gave me life in a dark time; she was the light I saw in a storm, when I thought all was lost within my soul. She came into my life, and like a flower in a field, she blossomed.
Excuse me. (A women brings in a tray of coffee and deserts)
"Ekosani Nina Muskwa Iskew." (Thank you my bear women)
I have never been happier in my life. Care for some coffee? I could say the war was the best part of my life, if I didn't go. I wouldn't have met Amelia, the women I so very loved. You may wonder and ask why I didn't go back. I wanted to, but money was a problem, as days went on, which turned into months. I've always thought of her and then these medals I got from the war, they can't compare to her, nothing ever will.
There is an old saying, "If you love something, and you set it free, if it comes back it was meant to be." You may think that all this, is hogwash. Let me tell you, I thought that too. I wrote letters to her, but I had no idea where to send them. I had kept them, like I was talking to her, like she were here with me you know.
A few years would pass, and yet I still thought of her. I never wanted to be with anyone else, then one day I received a telegram, to my astonishment it was Amelia. My heart raced with excitement. She said in the telegram, she had looked for me, in all the hospitals. When she found out which one I was stationed in, they had already shipped me out to England.
She looked for me intensively; she forgot the place I told her about, my home. She didn't know where in Canada to begin to look for me, then one day she remembered when she saw a river, that's when she recalled it being Fisher River.
She boarded a boat to cross the Atlantic, she was on a journey to look for Fisher River with my son named Lawrence R Bear, believe me. I thought the initial meant Running. I had never felt so alive that very moment.
I was happy to hear from her, she had said she would be in a city called Winnipeg two days prior to the letter. I was so overjoyed, I told my mother that she would in Winnipeg, that she would be arriving with her grandson. We had made the trip to the train station, to wait for her arrival, my heart pounded with anticipation, and I so much had wanted to see my beloved family.
It was cloudy that day, as we went to Winnipeg. It was the winter of 1946; it seemed to snow as we waited. I stood there waiting anxiously, all dressed in my best suit. And when the train rolled up, the wheels screeching, the smoke from the train sifting, I watched as one by one exited the train.
I went outside to wait; I removed my hat holding it against my chest. I never had such a glow within me, and when I saw her, it was like life had come to a stand still. The clouds parted and let sunlight through, almost shinning on her; it was like she gave the world a glow. She was beautiful, the way I remembered her. Her long curly brunette hair flung harmlessly from side to side, my heart fluttered. I was aglow; this day was my proudest day.
She smiled and her eyes twinkled, which took my breath away and when I saw my son, my own flesh and blood. He made me cry. I had tears of joy. I was the happiest man on earth; she said something to him pointing to me. He ran to me, I knelt down and he leaped into my open arms, the feeling I had. I can't explain, but I never felt so loved in my life. But I will always, cherish it.
This, my friend, is my story of the war. My journey. My life. My diary. I hope you enjoyed it, as I hope this will explain to my kids, grand children. That how their Papa fought in the war, and won over their Grandma.
Amelia. How I love her so much.
I hope you loved her coffee; she is, rather fond of it.