Homecoming: The Girl In The Plain Brown Dress, Excerpts from A WWII Era Memoir of a Holocaust Era Victim and Wounded American GI
This is a continuation of the unpublished segments of my recently deceased father’s unpublished memoirs/novel entitled “Am I A Hero?” after he came home from fighting in WWII as a wounded vet. It is a part of series that we are doing both in tribute to the man, and to “publish” work that is remarkably resilient almost seventy years later, particularly as it relates to his experiences as a vet with a disability, trying to navigate back into a “normal” life – in my father’s case, a life that had been carefully constructed to try to right the tragic circumstances of his childhood. He was originally a German Jew, born in 1921, and most of whose extended family was essentially wiped out in the Holocaust. He fought as a GI on the front lines of the Allied Re-Occupation of Europe, to gain his American citizenship and against an “enemy” that used discrimination (on almost every front) to gain power and change the course of the next sixty years of global history. My dad was wounded on the border of France and Germany when the jeep he was riding in pulled to the side of the road to make way for a troop convoy. That was exactly where the retreating German Army had planted underground mines to stall the inevitable advance of the Allied Forces as they neared the German border.
My dad was one of the first casualties of that kind of landmine incident that plagued the American Infantry from about that time until they “liberated” Germany approximately nine months later. Not to mention the Army Medical Convoys bringing wounded troops back “home.” It is a scene replayed with rather remarkable accuracy in the opening scenes of the early 21st Century romance “The English Patient.”
Home Coming: The Girl In The Plain Brown Dress
She [Eve Arnold, his wife] prepared for the homecoming of her husband like a girl who is about to go on her first date. She planned it from the very first greeting to the time when he would recover from the terrible affliction which makes all veterans so very different. She rehearsed every word she was going to say to him, every gesture. She would be cool so as not to make it appear that she was throwing herself at him. She would be affectionate to make him feel wanted and secure. She would be calm in order not to upset his frayed nerves.
She would greet him with a cheerful “hello.”
She had heard that the veterans liked to be reminded of the days before the great change. She was advised to wear his favorite dress, the one he had wooed and loved her in. For weeks she went around in a brown woolen dress, a color she hated, a dress in which she felt like an unmade bed.
All this in order to have all her other dresses, his favorite dresses, clean and pressed for his welcome.
She had her hair done every day in momentary expectation. She practically lived under the dryer.
She bravely stood it all.
Had he not worn his steel helmet day in and day out?
She would do everything for him. Breakfast in bed with a newspaper and a package of cigarettes. His favorite foods and she in that negligee he liked so much.
She would care for him, but she would also cure him.
All that was before the conversation with the lady next door. The lady who had a nephew who had come back from the Pacific. She had experience with such things. The neighbor said that the soldier wanted change and gaiety. He wouldn’t want to be cuddled. Let him shift for himself. Let him do the dishes.
Before my return, my wife really worked at her end of the bargain. She studied for the hero’s return. Tomorrow he might be back, or perhaps the day after.
A week went by. Nothing happened.
Wasn’t he ever coming?
He had written that he would be back shortly.
Gradually, she slipped back into the old routine and normalcy that was her bedrock as a working woman during this terrible affair. She broke her appointments with the hairdresser. She did not clean the apartment as regularly or as thoroughly.
Then he came.
Then the phone call.
As if in a trance, she took the next train to the hospital.
The ride was long and when she got there it rained.
She didn’t have a toothbrush on her, much less a raincoat.
She remembered thinking this was not the way she had planned it. This was not the way it was supposed to be.
In the whiteness of the ward, she could not, at first see him. The nurses had a professional air of sympathy.
Eve walked past the rows of beds and hungry leer of other people’s husbands.
And then she saw him.
There he was.
She sat down on the side of my bed and cried, as ugly as a new-born baby.
Her makeup was bleary. Her hair was a bedraggled mess.
She was wearing that damned brown dress.
It was the best homecoming I ever had.
I knew that I was “home.”
- In Memorium: Arnold F. Arnold (born Schmitz), 1921 – 2012 (greentaxisnow.com)
- Reading selections for International Holocaust Remembrance Day (iupress.typepad.com)
- International Holocaust Remembrance Day (foraslanandvolstate.wordpress.com)
- Belgian Nurse Who Saved GIs in WWII Honored (abcnews.go.com)
- Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust archive arrives in UK (guardian.co.uk)
- U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (haleybehre.wordpress.com)
- New deal on Holocaust-era archive expands access (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Eve Arnold, 1912-2012 (fansinaflashbulb.wordpress.com)
- 11 -11 -11: A Jobless Homecoming (victoree.wordpress.com)
- Meds and PTSD: What works? What doesn’t? (homecomingvets.wordpress.com)