The next three days were the busiest two days in my memory. I worked late on to the night each of those days barely taking time out to eat. As busy as my days were my mind kept going to the letter. I had a weekend with nothing to do. I was determined to wake up early Saturday and read it to the end no matter how long it took to read it. At 5:30 AM I took the envelope to the kitchen made some coffee, poured myself a large cup and went to best chair in the living room leaned back and began reading where I had left off.
I spent another four months in that theater. I began what I thought was going to be my last week there by reading one of the rare letters from home. I felt so good after reading the letter that it really hit me that I might actually get out alive. It was almost too much to hope for that in seven more days I would leave this hell hole behind. I had just put the letter away when we got orders to move to the front again. I had barely gotten in to position when I saw a hand grenade aiming towards one of my buddies. The best that I could do to help him was to run out and push him out of the way of the grenade. I didn't push him far enough.I saw the flash and then nothing. I woke up days later in the hospital with my buddy in the bed next to me. We were both pretty bandaged up. I guess we were lucky our war was over and we survived,barely. It took me six months to recover enough to go home. My buddy went home three months earlier but we both made it home. So many didn't including Diamond Jim. Diamond Jim's grave is in Andersonville Georgia just ninety miles from where he grew up. it's where I am going to be too one day.
On my last day in the hospital for some reason I thought of my graduation suit.I knew that it would be more tattered and torn than before, kind of like me but I would wear it proudly. When I got home although I was glad to see my family especially my Ma and my Daddy everything was so different that I never quite got used to it. My only solace was when I worked in the fields There was a sense of quientness but always my thoughts would go to Diamond Jim.
I helped work the farm for about a year when I reached a point to where I had to move on. More and more I had been thinking of the promise I had made to Diamond Jim. I had a new car that I bought right after I came home and some money in the bank from while I was fighting. I tried on my graduation suit. It was more tattered and torn than ever but it still looked good on me. I then packed up not knowing exactly where I was going but figured someone in the town where Diamond Jim said he was from would know him.
It took me a bit to find anyone who would talk to me. When I did I found out that the man was his father. He called together his whole family so that I could tell them how much of a hero Jim was. They had never known and wouldn't have if I hadn't told them. All they knew was that he had some awards for bravery but they didn't know why. As I think about me having to tell Diamond Jim's family that their son was a hero I believe that my suit grew more tattered and torn because of Jim's life being so hidden. This was wrong.I shouldn't have had to tell his family. His people were good people and needed to know how well he represented their family in war.
Jim's mama told me that after Jim's death his wife moved up north. It was just too hard for her to stay in a place where every where she went it reminded her of Jim. She moved back to her home town a town called Gary Indiana.
I had no idea where Gary Indiana was. Shoot I had no idea where Indiana was really. I had never been north even when I was in the military. I had a buddy from New York City and fought with a lot of Yankees. I never had any animosity towards them. I just thought that they were under privileged being from the North. Besides they all talked funny especially the ones from New York. I bought some maps, put my uniform on and drove to Indiana.
It took awhile but I finally arrived there. My first thought when I got out of my car in Indiana was that I hadn't felt such cold since I fought in the war. You know I didn't realize that people actually lived and worked in cold and snow. When I was fighting in it I was so worried about staying alive that I never thought much about it. After standing in the cold for five minutes trying to make a phone call to Diamond Jim's wife on a pay phone I had a greater respect for Yankees.
It took a few tries but Diamond Jim's wife finally answered the telephone. If she looked half as beautiful as she sounded over the telephone than Jim wasn't kidding about his wife being beautiful. When I talked to her I explained who I was, that Jim was my best friend and how much Jim had talked about her over seas. I asked if I could meet her. I did not share my promise with her at least not over the telephone. I did tell her how much I missed Jim and she said she missed him too, badly. She invited me to her home.
It didn't take long to get to her home. As soon as I saw her I was overwhelmed. She was not like Jim described. She was much more than that. I don't believe that there is a word that describes actually how beautiful she was. My words got all jumbled up. I must have sounded like I had a brain injury when I tried to talk to her. In spite of myself she invited me in. As I entered in to her small home I noticed how clean and neat it was. I also noticed a two year old boy standing shyly behind her. She introduced him as Jimmy named after his father. "We became parents when Jim came home for his last leave" she told me. I told her that I knew Jim had a baby but that I never knew that he had a boy. She said, "She didn't understand why because she had written about his son nearly every time she had written to him after Jimmy was born." I said that in war there are a lot of things that we forget to talk about but I guarantee that he never forgot to talk about you, shoot we had a hard time getting him to stop talking about you."
We spent hours sharing stories about Diamond Jim, laughing and crying together over old memories. Jim was bigger than life we concluded especially after his death. All of a sudden it occured to me that I hadn't asked her her name. I couldn't recall Jim ever saying her name. He always referred to her as his wife. I turned red and explained that I didn't know her name. She laughed and said that her name was Jill. You know, she had the most contagious laugh I ever had heard. She still does.
It then occured to her that we had been talking for hours and she hadn't offered me anything to eat. I wasn't hungry. All I wanted to do was to look at her taking in everything she said and observe Jimmy. I could see so much of Diamond Jim in him even then. I was to see more and more of Diamond Jim in Jimmy as he grew older. Now when I look at Jimmy I think that maybe I am getting glimpses of what Diamond Jim might have been like if he had lived longer. Jill offered me one of the best sandwitches I have had before or since.
After eating that wonderful sandwitch I told Jill why I was there talking to her, that I had made a promise to Diamond Jim. I told her that when I made the promise I didn't want to make it really since I didn't want to think of my best friend dead. However now that I had met her and Jimmy how glad I was that I had. I wasn't sure how I was going to keep my promise since I had no job at least not yet but that as God was my witness I would keep it. She told me that in Jim's last letter he told her that his best friend Danny Boy made a promise to look after her. He told her that that there was never such a man as good as Danny Boy and that I would surely keep my promise. we grew silent after that remembering the man we both loved so much, Diamond Jim.
I was so caught up in the letter that I was unaware of my wife's embrace. She said, "honey I woke up to find you out of the bed and went to look for you only to see you reading a letter and you had tears falling. I thought maybe you need a hug." I hugged her back and said,"I love you. The letter I am reading is helping me to see the good things in my life clearer than ever before especially you." She said, " Then that letter must be a very wonderful letter indeed. After you read it could I?" I said, "I insist."