Quzhuo, China… 1942…
Grace found herself lying in a meadow surrounded by willow trees by a stream. The grass beneath her was soft and welcoming, leaving her with a warmth that arose from her breast and spread all through her body. It seemed like a dream but for the sensation of the breeze that moved past the purple catkins of the willows to billow the skirt of her blue dress, making the printed white butterflies seem to flutter their wings. And the sound of the water gently rushing over the rocks on the stream bed was soothing; the dream-like place seemed to chase away her anxious fears.
A voice came from behind and above. She looked back to see the upside-down image of a peasant couple. The husband looked concerned and the wife looked sad, almost belying her bright words. She thought ‘how odd’ that they would be thanking her; a stranger in their land. The man shook his head and frowned, but not at her. The wife knelt down beside her and cradled her head. Grace noticed only then that the woman was great with child.
“WÇ’ zá i zhá¨li!”
The wife took a cloth from her tunic and wiped Grace’s brow. Grace felt safe and as peaceful as at any single time in her life; those times were few and far between, leaving her thankful for the moment. She found herself envious of the woman and the child she carried; a longing that would never be fulfilled by the absence in her own body. Even in that moment of peace, she found herself weeping. The woman pulled her close and kissed her forehead in blessing. She sighed deeply as she placed her hand just beneath Grace’s neck.
“ZÄo gÄo,” the wife said as she removed her hand; it was wet and stained dark red. Grace looked up into the woman’s eyes and saw that she had begun to cry. Grace tried to speak, but began coughing. The woman wiped her brow again and spoke softly,
“WÇ’ zá i zhá¨li… “
The woman seemed to wish Grace’s tears away while shedding her own. Grace went to speak again, and felt a pain in her chest. The sound of the willows waving in the breeze gave way to loud angry foreign sounds; strange almost mechanical roars overhead, leaving Grace fearful.
The woman began to sing; it felt like a lullaby Grace had heard in a dream once as the woman's sweet voice and loving gaze felt more suited for a mother to her baby. The short seconds of fear gave way almost immediately to sustained peace as the woman cradled her gently. And her sight began to grow dim even as the darkness gave way to a bright light. She felt gentle hands lifting her and carrying her like a child as she heard the woman for the last time,
The couple looked at the figure lying almost twisted on the soft grass. The silk of his parachute seemed to billow like a skirt. The husband knelt down and felt the neck of the young man. He pulled his hand away slowly, shaking his head sadly. He looked in the pockets, but found no identification; much like the other two bodies they had found only minutes before. He was almost too young, but then everyone was too young to fight and too old not to. The woman knelt down beside her husband and kissed the boy’s forehead in blessing, noting that the boy had the most peaceful eyes she had ever seen.
"Xie xie ni... Hépáng…"
In grateful memory of the sacrifice of the many who died on April 18, 1942 in the skies over Tokyo and in the grassy fields of China. Gratitude also to the brave people of China, who helped our pilots and crews to the horrific peril and loss of their own lives. And in memory of all the others who gave their lives in service to keep freedom alive around the world. My words pale in comparison to the prose of their lives; I can only say thank you. Memorial Day, May 27, 2013
author of The Rape of Nanking
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