WW II friends plan to meet in The Netherlands (The Writer's Cramp entry)
Pieter Baantjer checked his watch and chided himself to move more quickly. It was almost nine o'clock, and he still wasn't ready to leave for the cemetery. The Americans would be arriving soon--some stooped with age, but many still hale and hearty--all of them riding in chartered buses to visit the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, just southeast of his hometown of Maastricht. The old man carefully picked up the bunches of specially grown tulips from the table and backed through the front door, then gently laid the flowers on the back seat of his old Ford Escort. He closed the car door, locked up the house, got in his car, and drove off.
He especially didn't want to be late this year, as his old friend, former U.S. Army Corporal John Stamp, was supposed to be leading one of the groups, and the old man planned to give the old soldier the biggest tulip from his garden. If the visiting Americans were the reason behind his carefully tended garden of red tulips--he gave one to as many former servicemen as he could, in commemoration of their valor in liberating Maastricht in September of '44--Corporal Stamp was the reason he had taken extra care this year. If not for John Stamp, Pieter wouldn't have seen October of that fateful year.
Caught between the opposing forces in the battle raging around Maastricht, Pieter had been badly injured. Corporal Stamp had found him, unconscious and bleeding profusely, and had used his own first aid pouch to dress the wound. He'd then gotten a medic to treat the wounded civilian and evacuate him away from the fighting. When Stamp's battalion was selected to provide security for the liberated city, the corporal had taken the opportunity to visit Pieter in the makeshift hospital. They soon became friends and, when the battalion was scheduled to rotate back to England en route to the United States, they'd promised to stay in touch.
Over the years, they had exchanged Christmas cards and the occasional letter, but neither man had crossed the Atlantic - until now. Traveling south on Highway 278, he soon reached the entrance to the military cemetery. Turning into the looping driveway, he saw three tour buses just starting to unload their passengers. Quickly, he parked his car, retrieved the flowers from the back seat, and hurried toward the growing crowd.
Giving a tulip to each of the servicemen, all of whom were wearing either sashes or old-style garrison caps bearing various military badges and awards, he looked around for his friend. One of the former soldiers, a rather smallish gentleman with graying hair and a sparse mustache, noticed the roving looks and stepped forward.
"Are you Mr. Baantjer?" he asked.
Pieter turned. "Yes," he said, handing the man a tulip, "I'm Pieter Baantjer. I'm looking for Corporal John Stamp. Is he with this tour group?"
"Sir," the man replied, "my name is Skip Turner. John told me you'd be here, and he asked me to try and talk with you. I'm afraid he didn't make it."
"He didn't make the trip?" Pieter asked, a little unhappiness creeping into his voice. "I was looking forward to reminiscing with him."
"He really wanted to spend some time with you, too, Mr. Baantjer." Skip paused a moment, then continued. "Well, the fact is - John died a couple of days ago, sir, kind of sudden like. I'm real sorry."
A feeling of loss came over Pieter, as the words sunk in. He looked at the tulips in his arms, then back up at the other man.
"Thank you for telling me, Mr. Turner," Pieter said sadly. "I wonder if you would mind very much," he continued, "if I accompanied you on your tour through the cemetery? I would like to place Corporal Stamp's tulip at the mausoleum."
Skip straightened himself to attention and said, "It'd be an honor to have you walk with our group, sir; I think John would've liked that. And while we're walking, perhaps you could pass the time telling me how you and John came to be friends. Knowing him, I'm sure it's quite a story."
"Thank you," Pieter replied, "I would be glad to share our story." The two men walked through the gate, memories of their mutual friend bringing smiles and the occasional tear.