“Joe found pieces of people, hands, arm, legs, sometimes entire torsos without the heads. The attack wasn’t the type of thing you see in the movies. Good men and women were caught in the blast, and the shrapnel that got the others was devastating. Joe swam through the sinking ship trying so hard to get as many as he could out that it changed him in ways I could see each time he came up.”
Maggie sat there listening, not daring to interrupt or even take her eyes off of the old man. His own gaze was far away, as though he was perhaps reliving the day, pounding surf, the sounds of the dying. There was no doubt that the trauma he’d carried for so long had changed him as well, though she was wise not to say anything. He was fully into his story now, and it was important that he continue.
“Finally he went down and didn’t come up. We waited for him for about a minute, and then the commanding officer on the boat, a lieutenant of all things, decided that we were to make for shore. I didn’t accept that, I couldn’t. I dove in after Joe and after a short search I found him passed out, or at least I thought so, just floating in the water above the area where the ship had gone down. His eyes were closed, he was hanging limp, and I thought at that point that he was dead. But when I came close he opened his eyes.
“He didn’t seem to know who I was, but he didn’t fight me when I decided to tow him to the surface. My lungs were screaming for air by the time we breached the surface, but in the end we both survived, and they pinned the medal of honor on me instead of Joe.”
“Why?” Maggie asked. She felt stupid for asking, but it seemed like a pertinent question.
“Joe insisted I was the one that had saved everyone. He made me swear to never tell any of them what had really happened. And since no one had really seen him pulling them up it worked.”
“What happened to him?”
“I wasn’t sure until I saw in the papers that he’d passed away. I tried to keep in touch with him after that for a while, but he grew distant over the years. There was just too much between us, and too much that he seemed to be running from, to ever really get back to square one.”
She frowned, “What was he running from?”
Joe smiled as he shook his head, “That’s something you’d have to ask someone else I’m afraid. My tale is all told out, and I can’t say anymore to what he did or felt once we were out.”
“Was there anyone else that knew anything about him?”
“From those days?” Joe chuckled, shaking his head. His eyes took on a slightly dark cast as he looked back at her, “The only other person I can think of that would know that is a resident in this home, and he doesn’t talk much.”
“Who?” she asked, thinking it a wild coincidence that anyone else that had known Joe might be so close. Fate worked in wild ways sometimes though.
“We called him the Kraut then and I call him that now, but he doesn’t like it much. As far as I can tell his name is Friedrich Himmel, and he’s as arrogant and mean as he was when he was a young commander. Best of luck with that one young lady.”
She left Joe’s room only a short while later, but it seemed as though her next course was set for now. Like it or not, her curiosity wouldn’t be settled until she spoke to the Kraut.