by Lee Passarella

World War II Memorial opens on National Mall
--News item, April 30, 2004

My Uncle Jack missed by twenty years
seeing a memorial sixty years in the making.
Maybe he would have felt it was his due,
like the free drinks he cadged
back in the '40s, a newly wounded vet.

In those days he made this joke:
"If they tell me 'Just drop your right eye
in the till,' I got 'em there!" Uncle Sam
gave him a glass eye to replace
the good one he lost in Yugoslavia in '44,
after two years slogging through North Africa,
up the boot of Italy. My mother told me
his men broke down and cried when he got hit.

Later, though, the most you could get out of him
was a grin and change of subject.
Bloodthirsty as kids are, I once asked,
"Uncle Jack, did you kill a lot of Germans?"
"Literally thousands!" he answered, beaming.
And that was all. Nice weather, if it don't rain.

What I heard about his tour came secondhand.
The Silver Star that should have been
a Medal of Honor, the lieutenancy he passed up.
"Sarge" was a good enough handle for him.

Once, Mom told me about the time
his company took out a machinegun nest.
Among the "thousands" of Germans
that he'd killed were the boys he saw lying there:
clean-cut, big shouldered and svelte
as quarterbacks. They weren't the Enemy
that day. Just dead sons and brothers,
an unguessed beauty. That day, even God
could die.

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