Long Black Shawl
By Lawrence Rahn, Army
Writing Type: Prose
Gladys M. Canty Memorial Award
VA Medical Center - Minneapolis, MN
In these hills, she walks the ridge end to end, calling for her son to hurry and come home.
Pausing for a moment, looking around for any sign of him, asking herself many times over, "Where can he be?"
She summons her friend, the Northern Wind, to help look for him, he can see for miles around.
Asking the Lord in her prayers, "Won't you please bring him safely home once again?"
Her son promised her he would return once the war had come to an end. It's been quite some time, and still no word from him.
Her son was proud to serve his country. At that time, a war was going on. Many times, he freely admitted how senseless the war really was. Still he went to do his patriotic chore.
His mother cried, over and over, "Forget the damn war!"
He insisted, "I'm no coward," shouting at her to drive home his point. "If I must die so be it! That just means I'll see my maker a little sooner than expected!"
Then he softened, giving his mother a smile. "Don't worry, mom, I will return. Just watch for me among the hills on that ridge.”
The Army took him before she even had a another chance to protest. She wrote him every day, and he wrote back again and again. Then, suddenly, the letters stopped coming. She worried something had happened to him. Then the war ended.
It has been over for a while, but she hasn’t heard from him.
"l hope he's okay,” she keeps saying, “so I can stop worrying. Please dear God bring him safely home."
He promised he wouldn't take chances. Only a mother knows that this was a promise that couldn't be kept with the amount of danger he would be in.
"Where can he be? When is he coming home? Help me God! Find him, please!
Still she walks these hills from end to end, holding the shawl her son gave her as a token of his promise to return after the war.
Then she sees two men approaching, both in military uniforms.
"Finally,” she cries, “a word about my son's whereabouts. They must be friends coming to visit, only they don't know he isn't home yet."
Both soldiers come up to her and come to attention. Then one steps forward, looks straight into her eyes, and with a ready-made speech, he begins to speak.
"Are you the mother, the owner of long black shawl given to you by your son as a token of his promise he would return after the war?” he asks. No answer comes, so he carries on. "I'm sorry to tell you, but your son died serving his country honorably. You see, he was killed saving the lives of seven soldiers in his squad from certain death while sacrificing his own. Truly he is an American hero among all soldiers in this man's Army.
“On behalf of the United States of America, the military would like to express its deepest condolences for your loss and present you with this Medal of Honor and this American flag. He fought under it in a war he didn't think was necessary but fought bravely next to his comrades. Once again, the Army offers its deepest sympathy.”
Then the soldier puts away the ready-made speech. His face softens, and in his own words he says, "l knew your son well. He was a good friend and a buddy you could count on for anything. We were going to get together after the war and hang out. We enjoyed each other’s company that much. But it didn't work out as we planned. For, you see, I was one in that squad he saved that day. I would surely have died if he didn't throw himself on that hand grenade.
“I'm sure he is with almighty God, where all war heroes go. I also believe very much in heaven, and he is waiting for you to meet him there when the time is right. He spoke very highly of you many times and how he was going to return home after the war. His last words were, ‘Tell mom I'm coming home a little late but to watch for me on the ridge of those hills.’”
The soldier turns and walks away with his comrade as tears stream down her cheeks.
Even now no one knows why, but she still walked those hills watching for him. One day, her friend the Northern Wind started blowing so hard that she could barely stand. Then, looking to the furthest hill, she saw someone approaching her.
"Yes,” she shouted, “it's him! My son had come home! Just like he said he would."
With outstretched arms, he beckoned his mother to follow him.
She was never found. The concerned citizen of the small town looked for her for days. They searched along the only trail; they couldn’t have missed her. “Where could she have gone?” they kept asking one another. All they found was a Medal of Honor and her long black shawl.
Her son had kept his promise--that he would return. It was that gift, the long black shawl, that kept her going, reminding her that he would be back.