He was older in his younger years for his endured experience.
He was younger in his older years as he tried to make up for
years that were lost.
He was Mr. Williams.
According to our every-day standards, the older Mr. Williams
was a bit scrambled with his thinking. He had always enjoyed telling
stories and occasional tall tales. It would be up to the listener to
determine which it might be. As the years accumulated, it became
tougher for Mr. Williams to sort it out as well.
Mr. Williams had enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
For those who never learn from history, then history will be
repeated. This is a truism as it applies to a single person as well as
the general population.
Mr. Williams had suffered his share of post-traumatic war
stress. He had landed on the shores of Normandy on D-day. He
witnessed much of the devastation of France and Germany as he
marched across western Europe.
Mr. Williams had sat along the devil’s lake.
Following the war, Mr. Williams decided on his own method of
dealing with his memories. He would do it with his stories. Graphic
details would be adjusted accordingly and quite often be left out
Usually, his audience would be the children of the neighborhood.
Through his own children, he would later have many more young
minds to plant the seeds of interest, curiosity and awareness.
His mission was to instill in the young minds the lessons of the
The Williams house was to be found in the middle of a long
street. The large front porch accommodated a large assortment of
outdoor furniture and offered plentiful shade and rain protection.
It would rapidly develop into the central meeting point for the
Over time, the children looked forward to hearing the stories.
The summer was especially popular as school was on vacation.
Some stories were believable, some not so, and still many about
western Europe during the war years.
“Say, grandfather, please tell us the story about you missing your
big toenail,” Tim requested.
Mr. Williams paused, and then embraced his opportunity.
“It was my first day to set foot in Europe. Guns were shooting. It
was very loud. The Germans were trying to stop us from landing on
the beach. The amphibious vehicles were reaching shore and
dropping their front gates down to allow the men to jump out onto
the beach. I was right there next to the gate. As the gate dropped, it
caught my toe at the bottom and ripped off my right big toenail. It
was my first moments at Normandy Beach!”
“Did it grow back ever?” Jimmy asked.
“No, not yet,” Mr. Williams asserted.
“What country were you in?” Joey asked.
“France. Northern France, near Paris,” Mr. Williams replied.
“Was Paris pretty?” Margaret asked.
“Oh no. Not then! People were hurt and killed. Many buildings
had been bombed and were destroyed,” Mr. Williams said while
shaking his head.
“Tell us about the clock, please,” Billy asked.
Everyone loved the clock story.
“Mr. Williams would occasionally bring out the clock for show
and tell. It was usually on a Saturday or long rainy stretch.
“After we had marched across France, we finally entered
Germany. Our assignment was to reach Berlin. Well, every few days
the soldiers would be issued two chocolate candy bars. As we
liberated one village close to Nuremburg, I watched a man as he
came out of a clock shop. He was the clock maker. He spotted the
chocolate candy bars in my pocket. He kept shaking my hand,
giving thanks to all the Americans that were liberating his village.
“You told us that Nuremburg is where the court trials were for
the war criminals,” Kathy pointed out with impulsive interruption.
Mr. Williams winked at Kathy, and then proceeded.
“May I have one of your chocolate bars. We are all starving
here in this village! I’ll trade you. You may have your pick of any
clock in my shop,” he pleaded.
Raw hope showed in his eyes.
“I gave him both chocolate bars and entered his shop. It was
loaded with clocks, just clocks. One clock hanging on the back wall
caught my eye. It was an all wood, only wood, Black Forest clock. It
had a fir tree painted at it’s top. It was dated 1640 at the bottom of
it’s face. Do you have the missing clock hand?”
“There is nothing missing,” he assured me. “There was only
one hand on it when it was made about three hundred years ago. It
has just the single hour hand.”
The shop owner quickly packed it up for me and I was on my
“May we see it today?” Margaret asked.
“No, not today. I have other chores to tend to before dinner
time,” Mr. Williams said politely. “But one day soon. Probably next
The following week, Mr. Williams found Janice sitting on the
front porch with his daughter.
“What’s your book about?” Mr. Williams asked.
“It’s from the library. It tells all about Paris being bombed
during the war. It shows lots of pictures, too,” Janice explained. “For
history class, I have to write a three page paper about a foreign city
or country. So, I picked Paris.”
“Sounds like a smart pick to me,” Mr. Williams remarked as he
stepped off the porch. He had a smile on his face as he did so.
Saturday rolled around just days later.
Mr. Williams stepped out onto the front porch. A game of
Monopoly was in progress as well as a game of Parcheesi.
“Hi Mr. Williams!” came from all directions.
There was a new face on the front porch.
“Who is this young man?” Mr. Williams asked.
“I’m Steven. I live two streets over. Margaret is in my History
class at school. Are you still going to show us the chocolate bar
“Good to meet you, Steven.”
“Give it about an hour, and I’ll get out the clock. Oh, Steven,
you will then see it’s the Black Forest clock.”
“Mr. Williams, could you tell us the story about the tank hiding
behind the church after it shot its bombs?” Joey begged. “I have to
write a report for my History class also.
Later, the children gathered around the clock that had been
brought out of the house. Mr. Williams pointed out all the fine
“Wow,” Richie spoke up. “I like it better each time I see it!”
Steven watched with great interest.
“Next year it will be my turn to write a History report,” Richie
said. “I already know what to write about; how Berlin was divided.”
“Remember, Richie,” Mr. Williams was quick to point out. “The
first troops to reach Berlin were the Americans, who had to wait
three more days for the Russians to arrive.”
“Why?” Steven asked.
“Tell us,” Mr. Williams said to Richie.
“It was arranged that Russian troops would march into Berlin
first on the following day as a symbol of the liberators. The
Russians then got first choice pick when they divided Berlin into
four sectors,” Richie explained.
It was not just about history, but about self-confidence.
Mr. Williams packed the clock into the box carefully and sat
back to reflect for a few minutes.
So many lessons had he learned from the theater of war. So
many lessons were yet to be taught to the hungry young minds
that would listen.
He then slipped back into the house with the clock in hand.
He wore another big smile on his face. One more smile in the long
parade of smiles, past and yet to come.
The success of his new mission would continue to flourish for
many years to come.
As the parade grew longer and the audience matured over the
years, the level of seriousness and stories of war would become
more sophisticated and more thought provoking to those who
came to listen and learn.