Purple Heart Funeral

The man’s youngest son discovered Oversimplify on YouTube on his own around age eight, which made him an unlikely authority on eras of history that most people know little about. Now, he often says things like, “Can you believe people thought Czar Nicholas was so bad? Apparently, they haven’t heard of Leopold II of Belgium!” Have you? Didn’t think so.

Or he might say, “Dad, did you know that, in The Battle of the Bulge, the Germans surrounded Bastogne, and the German commander told the American commander to surrender?”

“I had heard that.”

“Know what the American said?”

“I forget.”

“‘Nuts.’ Isn’t that the best?”

“Yeah, it is,” says the man.

Which might be why he found John Koukol so interesting. John joined the Church late in life in part because his second wife was a member (John had been a widower). John wore a tiny Purple Heart ribbon on his collar every Sunday in Church, and one Sunday, Graham asked the man, “Did he fight in a war?”

“Do you know what a Purple Heart is?” the man asked him.

He rolled his eyes. “Of course. Duh. What war was he in?”

“Well, why don’t we go ask him?”

So after sacrament meeting, they approached John. Graham stood awkwardly. John shifted his cane to his left hand and shook hands with Graham.

“Go on,” said the man.

“Did you fight in a war?” Graham said.

“Yes,” said John. “I was in World War II.”

“Did you get injured?”

“Yes. At the Battle of the Bulge?”

“Really?”

“Yes,” said John. “I got hit in the leg by shrapnel from a German 88 mm shell right at the start of the battle. Come over some time, and I can show you some things.”

So Graham did–sometimes, he would accompany his mother or both parents on visits to their modular home in Plymouth, MA. Lauren would visit with Margie, and Graham would sit with John who would show him his Purple Heart, pictures from the era, and books with military planes or weapons.

Now, after a lengthy illness, John has passed away. Lauren is traveling with their oldest son to a huge regional wrestling tournament, so the man brings Graham by himself to the funeral. The man has helped Margie write John’s obituary, and she has asked him to be a pallbearer with John’s sons from his first marriage and with a couple of men from the church. They sit next to one of the aisles. Graham is quiet through the service, rarely fidgeting while showing almost no expression.

After the final hymn and the closing prayer, the crowd arises.

“I have to go help get the casket into the hearse,” the man says to Graham.

Graham nods. “Okay.”

The man goes to the flag-draped casket. He joins the men in taking a grip on a side of the casket. The organist is playing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” The crowd is silent, and they begin to roll the casket. They turn it from the front and they start to roll it down the aisle. Graham is standing in that aisle, and the man is caught short by him. Tears pour from Graham’s eyes, and he is shuddering. He stands alone with no parent or friend, wringing his hands and trying to wipe the tears. The man wants to go to him but must stay with the casket.

Margie looks across the aisle and sees Graham. “Oh dear,” she mouths to the man.

Margie cuts in front of the casket and steps to Graham. She puts an arm around him, and he buries his head against her chest.

She says, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize you felt so strongly about him.”

Graham says nothing. Just wipes his eyes. The man escorts the casket from the church and to the hearse.

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