The bulldozers pulled up early in the morning in front of the Franklin Apartments. By the end of the workday, the once famous apartments were gone. Nothing, but a hole in the ground. As the work crew cleared the area for the demolition at one in the afternoon, no one noticed the old man in the wheelchair and a much younger man escorting him.
As the foreman signaled an "all-clear" to his crew, those gathered to watch the razing of the Franklin Apartments were awed by the flash and ancient walls as the building crumbled into dust and rubble. As the hundred odd spectators cheered the demolition, the old man and his young escort were quiet and somber as they watched the cloud of dust rise up like a ghost from a newly dug graveyard.
"So, that's that." The young man proclaimed to his charge.
"Sorry to see it go." The old man shifted in his chair. "So many memories."
"The time had come." The young man spoke into the old man's ear, "Let me know, Uncle Louie, when you want to go."
"Let me have a few minutes, Kyle." He patted Kyle's hand that was resting on the wheelchair handle.
"Aren't you Louis Callahan?" A reporter with a camera on a strap hanging around his long trench coat asked.
"It's my uncle." Kyle answered for the old man who was hard of hearing, "My great-uncle actually."
The reporter nodded as he raised his camera and took a picture of the pair. He would later discover he had captured the final image of Louis Callahan in a moment of deep reflection as he sat with his gnarled and bony hands folded in his lap and a single tear streaming down his deeply wrinkled face wearing his army uniform and the Bronze Star pinned to his right pocket. The iconic photo would earn serious consideration for a Pulitzer Prize a year later, eight months after the passing of a decorated hero of The Battle of the Bulge in 1945 at the age of ninety-four.
His great-nephew, Kyle Bartoni was wearing his business suit, preferring not to be associated with his service record where he had earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan in 2005 when he pulled out his wounded buddies from the flaming Humvee after having an IED explode on the Khyber Pass as the approached Kabbul. Besides the medal, Kyle lost his left eye and spent the previous year recovering from his twelfth surgery to reconstruct his face. It had been a long slow painful recovery. This was the first time he had been in public since then and his stomach churned with his rising anxiety as he saw a few people do a quick double take at the large twenty-three year old man accompanying his great-uncle. While it still bothered him very deeply, he was getting used to the gawking and pitying stares.
The fact remained, the Franklin Apartments, built in another era on the banks of Lake Erie on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, was where Louis Callahan chose to live when he was discharged from the army in 1947. A few months before his discharge, Louie married his childhood sweetheart, Roseland Serville down at his local VFW attended by the surviving members of his company in the 82cd Airborne. His wedding landed on the front page of all the local newspapers as he removed the garter from the leg of his new bride as she smiled to the camera with her deep brown eyes and chestnut hair. Since the photo was a black and white shot, none of her beautiful features mattered.
What did matter was Louie held her hand when the doctor told her she had stage four lung cancer ten months before she passed away on a cold November day at St. Teresa Hospice in 1994. Her last moments, Louie held her hand with their photo albums laying open on her bed.
Two years later, the property manager closed the Franklin Apartments due to in repairable structural damage that had accumulated in the century plus of the famous building's history.
Kyle's mother, Florence, Louie's niece, helped him move into a retirement community where round the clock medical care was available for the aging hero. Known as a cantankerous old coot by the staff, Louie insisted on taking a weekly pilgrimage to the apartments. He would then treat his escort to a steak dinner at one of his favorite restaurants on the shore of Lake Erie. He would sit by a large window with a stunning view of the lake that had undergone an extensive restoration of the waters once polluted by industrialization of the city decades ago when countless steel mills dumped their waste into the waters of the shallow lake.
Kyle would volunteer to be his uncle's escort. When Kyle graduated high school nine months after September 11th, he informed his uncle that he had enlisted. After hearing Kyle's news, Louie sat there with a stunned expression frozen on his sagging face. He picked up his glass of water the waiter had just filled and shook his head.
"I got a signing bonus." Kyle bragged.
"Kyle, are you planning to spend it after you are dead?" Louie put his fist to his mouth and coughed. Suddenly the grand view of the lake didn't seem to matter as much.
Kyle's grin dropped like the stock market did when Louie was in St. Mark's Parochial School in 1929. His father, Frank, lost his bulging nest egg. On A bitter cold January morning in 1930, Frank walked on the ice until he reached the waves that were lapping up on the newly formed ice several yards out from the shore. His body was never recovered.
His widow Mildred was left with six boys and three daughters. Louie loved his mother and did whatever an adolescent boy during the Great Depression could do to ease her burden. He would help the coal delivery men deliver coal to the customers. It was A dirty job, but he was able to supplement his mother's meager income, helping to put food on the table for his hungry siblings.
Enlisting at seventeen after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the recruiting station cut his orders for boot camp and assigned him to airborne. He made over fifty jumps before sending him to Europe.
The glider took off from the coast being towed by a transport until the fog ladened rocky coast of Normandy appeared below the glider. The cable was cut with a sickening snap and the wind carried the motor-less vessel earthward landing in an empty field about five miles inland. Once stumbling out of the open door, Louie immediately heard the thunder of German artillery. As the shells rained overhead, they looked like lightning in a phosphorus cloud.
"When we land, make sure you are ready to fire." The major ordered the nervous and nauseous soldiers sitting in the netting in the darkness where time seemed suspended as they waited to land. "Be ready. Keep in mind these are seasoned soldiers, the Jerries are."
There was more lightning from the enemy artillery. The ground seemed an eternity away.
"We used to picnic at the lakeshore." Louie tasked as the dust filled the air.
Kyle was concerned since the Franklin, as it was known, was most likely filled with asbestos since its construction predated the ban against the cariogenic material made in the pink Pepto Bimal color.
"Back then we had neighbors who became our friends." Louie lamented with a deep sigh.
"Do you need some oxygen, Uncle Louie?" Kyle leaned forward speaking into Louie's good ear. Louie just shook his head.
"I'm fine." His voice caught in his throat. After a brief silence, Louie continued, "Back then things were so different, Kyle. The war was over and everything was booming. This place was the model of modern living. Hard to believe that was true looking at the rubble, eh?"
"Yes Uncle Louie." Kyle answered as if he was a superior, which he was, but Kyle loved to listen to his uncle's war stories. Hitler and his evil regime had been defeated in over five bloody years thanks to the courageousness of men like his uncle.
In the twenty year war in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda still ruled. Wearing his medal, Kyle always felt it was inferior to his uncle. The rubble of the Franklin reminded him of Kabul, where once his unit chased away some kids trying to play with a dead dog killed in the crossfire earlier in the day. The boys were about his oldest son, Aaron's age. The boys' faces were dirty, because they hadn't had running water in over a year. Al Qaeda saw to that. All Qaeda also made sure these boys would not have a school to attend. America sent teachers to help educate them, but often it was just not enough. A for effort, but D for results.
During his visit to the VA, Kyle told Dr. Appleton his shrink, trying to help Kyle cope with his PTSD, that he would hear voices. The good doctor was correct. The night his Humvee hit the IED, he heard the screams of the crew. In the morning before the medevac arrived, three of his crew had died of their wounds. Their voices, their screams echoed in his nightmares. It got so bad, Nicole left him with his kids, because as she put it, she could not live with her husband's night terrors any longer. Kyle was now living at a boarding house down on Euclid that seemed to be in worse repair than the recently demolished Franklin. He hated the Spartan conditions of his room and that his entire life possession still fit in his army issued duffle bag.
"Hey Kyle." He heard a voice that came from this world. When he saw the person who had called his name, he was happy to see him.
"June Bug." Kyle embraced the thin man with the olive complexion and thinning black hair wearing dark glasses since he favored narcotics that helped him forget. Some of the narcotics were prescriptions and some were not.
"You look fabulous." June Bug noted after he stepped away from the bro-embrace.
"How have you been?" Kyle asked.
"I get by." June Bug answered and then sniffed which meant he had a nose full of cocaine. "Been in rehab last few months."
"How is that working for you?" Kyle asked, grateful June Bug was wearing dark glasses so he would not view the reality of his friend's current condition.
"You know." June Bug snorted a chuckle.
"My Uncle Louie is asleep." Lyle pointed to his uncle who was slumped in his chair.
"You told me about him. He's over ninety years old." June Bug was awed, "I'll be lucky to make it to forty."
"He used to live here." Kyle pointed his chin at his snoring uncle.
"Me, too. moved in a few months ago." June Bug shoved his hands inside the pockets of his tattered jeans.
How can that be? The city council closed Franklin down two years ago." Kyle shot a sharp glance at his friend, but June Bug just shrugged it off and grinned.
"Abandoned places like the Franklin make ideal meth labs." June Bug affirmed, "Good talking to you Kyle, but Kenzie is looking for me."
Kyle watched as June Bug wrapped his arms around a girl who did not appear to have graduated high school yet.
June Bug was from Georgia and he got his nickname from working on his father's farm in Fulton County where he moved and glitter like a June Bug that was common to the farm. After his discharge, he stayed in Cleveland where they had the resources to treat him, but he was always ready to sabotage his treatment.
Kyle knew June Bug felt at home in some kind of residential rehab treatment center. Somewhere deep in his psyche, Kyle sensed he would most likely never see June Bug ever again. Somehow, Kyle was fine with the revelation.
When the Humvee blew up in Kabul, June Bug was the gunner who lost his left leg. They fitted him with a prosthetic that made it possible for June Bug to get around. June Bug was the second person Kyle pulled from the burning vehicle. His act made him a god in June Bug’s eyes, but there was a bit of a trade off as far as Kyle was concerned.
“It was here I raised my kids.” Louie licked his dry lips.
“Sure, sure, Uncle Louie.” Kyle patted him on the back, grateful that his uncle had broken June Bug’s monopoly on Kyle’s time.
“So what did yawr shrink say ‘boucha PTSD?” June Bug asked.
“That I’m still bat-shit crazy.” Kyle smiled with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Ain’t we all, pardner.” June Bug shook his head. “I’ve gotta be headin’ on. Doc Southerby is not a patient man.”
“But he seems to have his share of them, like you.” Kyle remarked as June Bug turned to leave.
“Aught, you old bugger.” June Bug laughed and pointed his finger at Kyle like a pistol. The one thing Kyle always got a kick out of was June Bugs unorthodox laugh that sounded like a wren with his leg caught in some sort of trap.
“What do you think they will put in this empty space?” Louie asked.
“I don’t know. Probably a parking lot. Cleveland ain’t got enough of them, eh?” Kyle laughed, but his uncle was not as jovial as June Bug.
“If they do such a foolish thing, I’m gonna write to my councilman for sure.” Louie scowled.
“No need. No need.” Kyle assured him.
Lt. Newsome was driving through the dirt rubble streets. Kyle sitting next to him separated by June Bug’s legs was feeling every bump and jolt.
“We’ve got to get to that district.” The Lieutenant barked, “The place is crawling with insurgents.”
“Roger that.” Kyle felt his stomach move a bit.
The Humvee was loaded with Kyle’s platoon. Kyle did not favor going out into the streets of Kabul after sunset since there was always something or someone hiding in the shadows. Since the days of the blackout, the street lights were not an ally as they had been when Kyle first reported for duty in the dusty city.
“Hey Fox Hole.” One of the men tapped Kyle on the shoulder. His nickname was Fox Hole, because he was always the first to jump into one when the platoon came under fire.
“What?” Kyle felt his insides gurgle.
“When we get back, do you want to play a couple rounds of my PlayStation?” Corporal Jensen asked.
“Call to Duty?” Kyle grimaced as they hit a pot hole.
“Hey lieutenant, are ya aimin’ for them?” June Bug complained.
“Call to Duty? Sounds like a plan.” Jensen smiled.
It would be the last time Kyle would see Jensen with his left eye as the explosion ripped through the vehicle.
He heard Lt. Newsome scream as he exited the flaming vehicle. Jensen disappeared in the smoke and flames. June Bug cried out, “Oh my leg. My leg is gone.”
Shielded by the armor, Kyle miraculously was able to walk, but his face now felt like it was on fire. When he put his hand to his cheek, his hand came away covered in blood.
Without thinking, he jumped back into the vehicle and began pulling out his platoon. He managed to get all seven onto the sidewalk as the Humvee was consumed in flames. Within minutes, the corpsmen arrived to help with the mess.
Lt. Newsome was dead and Corporal Jensen would be by the time he was medevacked. June Bug would lose his left leg and Kyle his left eye as well as having his face shredded in the blast. He could never remember what the injuries the rest of his platoon suffered, but he did remember arriving at the medical station, his vision blurred by the blood pouring out of his wound.
“You’re gonna make it, son.” The nurse reassured him as they put him under.
“Ya know, I’m gonna miss this old place. So many memories. So many memories.” Louie said, shaking his head. Although Kyle could not see his face, he was pretty sure the old man was crying.
“I get it.” Kyle agreed. “Mom used to bring us out here for family reunions on the Fourth.”
“Yeah, all them fireworks and military bands playing. Sure was a good time.” Uncle Louie wiped his face with the back of his hand.
“You are so right, Uncle Louie, you are so right.” Kyle rocked back on his heels and laughed.
“We should be getting back. They serve dinner at four.” He said with a sad sigh. “Would you like to join me?”
“I could.” Kyle nodded, “I could.”
“Sometimes they overcook things.” He titled his head as Kyle began to push him toward his car. “Really reminds me of Roseland’s cooking, if you ask me.”
Kyle chuckled as they arrived at his 2001 Toyota with a hatchback for his uncle’s chair. With a solid push, he got his uncle into the passenger’s seat and then folded the chair.
“Going to miss this old place.” Uncle Louie took one last look over his shoulder as they drove away.
Memories are sometimes like children, they crowd your home when they are growing up, but you miss them fiercely once they are grown and gone. Driving to St. Teresa was the two of them were silent, but memories they had would not stay quiet.