How are y'all on this lovely Thursday? Well ok, I can't say for sure whether or not it's a lovely Thursday because I scheduled this post almost a week ago so that it would actually go up on time. ;P But, the point is, it is up on time (Hallelujah!), and therefore you get to read part 4 of Katie's War. So, I'll quit rambling (if you actually read this entire paragraph), and give you the conclusion of Katie's War; or, more simply, KW. ;)
“First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for coming. It has been wonderful talking to you all.” Matt’s eyes wandered over the room. “You are all treating me like a hero; but the truth is, all I did was get hurt and run home.” He grinned, and several chuckles could be heard. When everyone settled down, Matt continued in a more sober tone, “However, there is a hero in our midst. A man that sacrificed his father’s life for the lives of those soldiers under him. A man that lost his arm due to a wound while trying to save that same father. A man that, despite his wound, led those men under him safely back to camp.”
Katie gasped. “Wh- why, he’s talking about Jerry!” She whispered in alarm to Lillian. “How did Matt know about it?” Lillian shrugged and looked just as confused as Katie felt.
“Jerry, come up here, please,” Matt called. Jerry slowly made his way to Matt, his face a mixture of emotions. “Everyone, I present to you, Jeremiah Judson, the hero from small-town Kansas!” He stepped down and Jerry took his place.
“I- I’m not sure what to say,” Jerry stammered. “I don’t even know how Matt knows my story. What I do know is, I’m not the hero. My father is the one who died for the lives of so many others, but he’s not the real hero, either. The true hero is Jesus Christ, who died the horrible death of the cross so that none of us would be sent to hell. It’s to Him I give the glory for the courage He gave me that night. I’m not the hero; God just used me as an instrument to keep my men safe.” Jerry bit his lip as his eyes became moist. “What I did was nothing compared to what Jesus did for me; for all of us. I just wish my father was still here to tell you rather than me.”
Not an eye was dry in that room. Matt appeared by Katie and handed her a cookie. “Have some refreshment, my dear,” he said with an exaggerated bow.
Katie giggled, then bit her lip and cocked her head in thought. “Matt,” she began, “How did you know Jerry’s story?”
Matt’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “A certain Joey bean told me,” he said with a chuckle.
Katie shook her head with a smile. “Matt, I’m going to miss you.”
Matt’s eyes clouded over. “I dread going back to that war. Every day I pray for it to be over, but it’s not. And I have to go back; my medical leave is over. But if I have to go in order to protect the ones I love, I’ll do it.”
Katie put a hand on Matt’s arm. “Matt, a wise young man once told me, ‘Katie, only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your soul; the other for your freedom.’ We need men like you to fight for us, Matt. I just thank God that you’re willing to do it.”
Matt smiled and pulled her in close. “Thanks, Katydid. I’ll miss you too.”
Katie was on her knees in the garden, vigorously pulling weeds. The war was over, and soon everything would be all right again-- at least, almost everything. The war had been over for two weeks, yet there was no news from Matt. She slowly stood up and leaned back, pressing her hands to her lower back. “I wish the victory garden would quit with the war,” she muttered to herself. A giggle from behind made her turn around.
“You never did like gardening, Katie,” Lillian said. She walked closer. “I’ll help you, if you like.” She dropped to her knees and began pulling weeds.
“Lillian, you’re a wonder.” Katie smiled and kneeled down beside her friend. Already the end of the row seemed closer, and the taunting weeds less daunting.
They were just finishing the sweet potatoes a half hour later when someone cleared his throat behind them. Katie turned, and saw a young man in military uniform standing beside the garden, hat in his hands.
“I-I was wondering if you could direct me to the Osborne house?” He asked quietly.
Lillian straightened and stared at him. “I’m Lillian Osborne. Can I help you?”
The stranger stared at Lillian, a smile slightly turning up the edges of his mouth. “Just like his picture,” the man murmured to himself. After a few moments of awkward silence he seemed to shake himself free from his thoughts and back to the present. He swallowed and shifted from foot to foot, staring at the ground. Finally he looked up. “I... well, I knew Matt.”
Lillian took a hopeful step forward, then frowned, realizing he had used the past tense “knew”.
The man swallowed again. “Yes... we were in prison camp together.”
Lillian gasped. “Prison camp?” She paled. “No wonder we never heard from him.” She swallowed, then hesitantly asked, “Who are you? What happened?”
The young man licked his lips. “I’m Braden Lolling, a friend of Matt’s. We fought together in Norway and were captured soon after he came back after his medical leave. Every day we sought for a chance to escape, and one night it came.
“A truck had brought supplies to the camp, and on its way back out it passed the barracks where we were staying. We were supposed to stay inside, but we slipped out a window, and jumped into the back of the truck just as it passed by. Miraculously we weren’t caught- until the truck had a breakdown. We jumped out of the truck and had almost made it to safety when a shot rang out. Matt went down.” The stranger squeezed his eyes shut. “He got it dangerously close to the heart, and I wouldn’t have left him, but he all but threatened me if I wouldn’t go. So... I left. I never saw him again.” He opened his eyes. “They would never have saved him at that prison camp; the commandant was a hard and ruthless man who would just as soon kill the prisoners as keep them.”
Lillian’s lower lip quivered. “I see.”
Braden blinked back tears. “I’m so sorry, Miss Lillian. I... I should never have left him. I’m a coward for doing it.”
Lillian managed a small smile. “You would have been caught, Braden. Matt would have wanted you to stay safe. He sacrificed himself so that you could live; that’s so much like him.”
Katie nodded in agreement, not sure of what to say. Finally, after a few moments of silence, she announced, “I have to get back to work; Lillian, why don’t you take Braden to meet your family.” Lillian nodded and dazedly led Braden down the street and out of sight.
“God, first Dad, and now Matt? Why?” Katie lifted tear-filled eyes to the sky, anger burning inside her. “Why do you allow all this war and killing? I don’t understand!” She dropped to her knees and began pulling weeds with renewed vigor, throwing the garden pests behind her.
“Whoa, watch where you throw those things!” Jerry chuckled behind her. Katie turned sheepishly.
“Sorry, Jerry,” she said.
“No harm done.” Jerry threw an arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Who was that with Lillian?”
Katie turned and sobbed into her brother’s shoulder. “Oh Jerry, Matt’s dead!” She exclaimed.
Jerry stiffened visibly. “What?”
Katie nodded and looked up. “That man’s name was Braden. He fought with Matt, escaped with Matt, watched when he was shot-” Katie broke off, trying to control her emotions. Finally she continued, “He was shot, and made Braden leave while he was caught. Braden said that he could never have survived.”
Jerry was silent as Katie’s words sunk in. “Matt’s... dead?” He shook his head. “I can’t hardly believe it.” He stared into space for a moment, then dropped to his knees in the garden. “Come on, I’ll help you.”
Three weeks later Katie was sitting on the porch swing with Jerry, who was helping her with history homework.
“No, Katie; George Washington was the first president of the United States; not Abraham Lin-”
“Hey, can I join the party?” A playful voice interrupted.
Katie jumped up and gasped. “Matt?” She ran and gave him a hug, wiping tears from her eyes. “I thought you were dead!”
Matt smiled and returned the hug, wincing slightly. “Well, there for a while I thought I was dead too.”
Jerry approached and embraced Matt warmly, then stepped back with a frown. “Matt, you’re so thin and pale. Come and sit down on the porch.” He led Matt and Katie to the front of the house and the three of them squished together on the porch swing.
“Matt, Braden said that there wasn’t any way for you to survive; why are you here?” Katie asked. Matt smiled. It was a pain-filled smile, and Katie almost wished she hadn’t asked the question.
“I was lying there in the bushes, and my wound hurt worse than anything. I was waiting for the German truck driver and the guard riding with him to come and finish me off or, worse still, take me back to prison camp. But the driver quickly appeared above me and held some water to my mouth. I managed to ask him what happened to the guard, and he chuckled and said, ‘Oh, zat guard? Vell, he got a little bump on his head; he von’t be joining us for a while.’”
Matt chuckled. “Well, it turns out that the German was a sympathizer with the allies. He got me to a hospital, and as soon as I was able I came home. But, I won’t be here for long.” Matt added this last part quietly.
“Not here for long? Why?” Katie demanded.
Matt sighed. “I’m never going to recover from my wound, Katie. It was too deep and too close to the heart. The doctors don’t think I’ll live for another year.” This statement was met with a resounding silence.
Jerry finally broke the silence. “Have you talked to your family yet?”
Matt shook his head. “This was the closest stop from the railway station, and I thought I’d stop for a rest.” He shook his head and gave the two siblings a small smile. “You know, I’d always thought that I’d die quickly of a heart attack or by a bullet ripping through my heart; I never thought that I’d die a slow death. It’s rather frightening, really.”
Katie placed a hand on Matt’s back. “We’ll pray for you, as well as your family, Matt.”
Matt turned to her with tear-filled eyes. “Thank you, Katydid. I’m going to need a lot of it.”
Katie and Lillian stood together as they watched Matt’s casket slowly being lowered into the ground, leaning on each other and crying softly. Sobs shook Lillian’s entire body, and Katie’s heart ached with the loss of Matt along with the grief of her friend.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Lillian managed in a shaking voice between sobs. “He’s never going to wrap me in his hug anymore.”
Katie wasn’t sure what to say. Tentatively she began, “Lillian, you’ll see him again. You believe that, don’t you?” At Lillian’s nod, she continued, “You know, when Dad died, I thought my heart would break. But when I really stopped to think about it, I was filled with awe. My own father, the wonderful, yet imperfect, man that I knew and loved, was in the presence of the Jesus, sitting at his feet. Imagine, Lillian! Your own Matt, is actually with the One who created him and loved him so much that He died to make it possible for Matt to go be with Him. Isn’t that amazing, Lillian?”
Lillian nodded and gave Katie a small smile, wiping her nose with a kerchief. “Thanks, Katie. I’m so glad you’re here to set me back on the right track.”
Katie smiled and hugged her friend. “That’s what friends are for.”