The piece was written by Jim Murphy, 66, of Falmouth, Mass.,
a father of
six who teaches literature and writing at the Massachusetts Maritime
Academy and Boston College.
It was a gray, clammy August day in 1953. The Korean War had
week earlier, and the opposing forces were exchanging prisoners of war at a
location that came to be known as "Freedom Village."
Murphy was there, representing his infantry regiment, standing
attention as the ambulances and buses arrived from the north. What happened next,
Murphy says, changed forever the way he views the American flag.
In his words: "When the remaining Chinese and North
Koreans had been
herded off to their own vehicles, the UN prisoners were ushered from the
trucks and bushes and sent across the bridge to our side. The UN Honor
Guard, combat veterans and observers gasped when they saw the condition of their
returning comrades who struggled, hobbled and staggered, gaunt and
emaciated, toward friendly faces. They were immediately embraced and helped to the
awaiting medics and aid stations.
"One after another they came. The next one was in worse condition
the one before. Long lines of dull-eyed soldiers of the 'Forgotten War' inched
their way to freedom, and out of their number, a gray-faced, stick figure
of a boy-turned-old man dragged himself along the bridge. His bony arms were
held out like a sleepwalker. He staggered and swayed and one time fell
into the wooden railing. Every eye in that village was suddenly trained on that
one figure. Even those on the northern side watched the gallant physical
effort of the wasted soldier.
"Each tried, inwardly, to help, to urge him on, until, finally,
lurched forward, an M. P. major, a giant of a man, came up to help. The
soldier waved him off with his skeleton hands and arms.
"Looking around at the grim faces, he caught sight of the
color-bearers and shuffled toward them. When he reached the American
flag-bearer, he knelt on trembling knees before the flag as though it were
an altar. He reached up and tugged at the flag. The color-bearer, either by
instinct or by some infinite wisdom, lowered the flag and the soldier
covered his face with it, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably.
"Other than the clicks of cameras, the village was cemetery-quiet.
streamed from all of us. Cotton replaced saliva in our throats. After
several moments frozen for eternity, the stillness was broken by the sound of the
heavy boots of the M. P. major, who came crunching across the gravel, his
cheeks moist and glistening. He bent down and tenderly scooped the soldier
up in his muscular arms and carried him off to a waiting ambulance, much as a
father would carry a baby.
"There wasn't a dry eye in this silent village, thousands
of miles away
from Elm Street, USA"
It's something to ponder. Murphy has for 47 years.
here to search for a missing buddy!
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