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Rated: E · Short Story · Holiday · #1494721
WW II friends plan to meet in The Netherlands (The Writer's Cramp entry)
Veterans Day

Pieter Baantjer checked his watch and chided himself to move faster. 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. Aside from the importance of it being the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, 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.

Pieter 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'd been extra careful with them this year. If not for John Stamp, Pieter wouldn't have seen that October. The tulips' red blossoms sparked old memories, and his thoughts drifted back...

A voice and cautious shaking had penetrated the horrible pain in his right side.

"Hey! Buddy! Can you hear me?"

His moan was weak, testifying to the severity of his wound and onset of shock.

"Hold on, pal! I'll get you patched up."

Pieter heard frenzied fumbling, then a tearing sound. The soldier, an American by the sound of him, gently rolled him to the left to secure a field dressing. The small movement generated a searing pain, eliciting another moan.

"Ah, jeez! Medic! I need a medic over here!"

A moment later: "Okay, I'm - Wait a minute! This guy's a civilian, Corporal! We can't -"

"Shut up! He came around that corner, just as we opened up on a Kraut position on the other side of the street, so just shut up and fix him!"

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.

Rousing himself from his reverie, the old man cradled the bunches of beautiful tulips from the table, backed through the front door, then laid the flowers on the back seat of his aging Ford Escort and closed the car door. He locked up the house, got in the car, and drove off. 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 two bunches of 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 flowers and the man's roving looks. He 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. After a moment, he continued. "I wonder if you would mind very much, if I accompanied you on your tour through the cemetery? I would like to place Corporal Stamp's tulip at the memorial tower."

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.

[827 words]
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