11:11:11
The Armistice
by sarAdora

~~~

"When youíre weary...
feeling small...
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
Iím on your side."

Annelise watched the elderly man as he slowly made his way down the sidewalk, the sound of his metal walker - click-thump, click-thump, click-thump - indiscernible as hoards of noisy children scurried around him. She noted that his uniform had been freshly pressed but his cover was slightly askew as he labored through the crowd on prosthetic legs. His stance was ramrod straight as were the ribbons across his chest... Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Navy Cross and countless others for meritorious duty to his country. Herr Cooperman or Grandpapa Cooperman, as he preferred to be called, had been a small boy that historical day...

~~~

The Great War, the War of the Nations, had begun July 28, 1914 between the powers of the Triple Entente - Great Britain, France and Russia with their allies on one side and Germany and Austria-Hungary and their allies on the other side. It had been called a civilized war, fighting allegedly ceased at sunset, soldiers somber as they collected their dead and wounded, the war commencing once again at dawn. As if any war can be called civilized.

~~~

1918 - November 11th

"If you are going to watch history take place, you must get out of bed now," his father told Hans Cooperman, shaking his small son awake long before cock's crow.

"Will it really be in history books?" Hans asked his father as he pulled heavy woolen pants over his long underwear.

"The Generals have given their word and you and I and very few others will witness the signing of the peace. Hurry! We do not want to be late to watch history take place."

Two hours later, after trudging through new snow and bitter winds, they stood at the back of the war weary crowds of soldiers in the Forest of Compiegne, Hans hoisted on his father's shoulders.

5 A.M. - Monday

After four years of bitter conflict, an armistice had been declared and the peace so overwhelmingly longed for was minutes and signatures away from taking place. In a railroad car... drawn up in a siding... northeast of Paris... in the Forest of Compiegne, representatives of the Allies readily stepped to the makeshift table, pens in hand; the defeated officers approaching more cautiously. All copies of the lengthy document were signed and when the last signature was affixed, all present, participating and observing, drew a huge breath of relief and filled the forest with their grateful cheers.

It took several hours for the news to spread. That same day, at precisely 11 A.M., the bugle call to cease firing sounded. An order was issued for all fighting to cease and, for the first time in four years, the unaccustomed silence of a world at peace replaced the thunder and lightning of a world rent by war; the hostilities of the First World War had ended.

"Is it done?" Hans asked his father, shouting his words, the solemnity of the occasion cut short by the joyous cheering of all present.

"It is done," his father smiled, lifting his son from his shoulders and tossing him in the air with exuberance. "Peace has been restored."

It was a new day and a new era that began with the laying down of arms. Soldiers on all sides shook hands and embraced their previous enemies, rushing to toast each other's health. All across Europe, impromptu parades were forming through the streets and shop owners closed their stores to celebrate the momentous occasion.

All over the globe there were many such demonstrations; the world had never before witnessed such harmony and were convinced nations would never sacrifice their young men to war again. The mood was joyous and in November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th as Armistice Day. The United States Navy remained on guard... along with other branches of the military, they had lost too many of their own in the Great War, their ships transporting soldiers, marines and the supplies and ammunition necessary for waging war.

~~~

"When times get rough
And friends just canít be found...
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down."

As was her custom, Annelise hugged her grandfather when he finally made his way into the family grocery. And as was his custom, Hans Cooperman stood stiffly when his granddaughter hugged him, the public display of affection embarrassing although he secretly loved her unabashed affection. His gaze wandered over to the outdoor produce display, his eyes automatically checking the plumpness of the vine-ripe tomatoes, the golden hue of the Yukon potatoes, the neat coils of sweet peas that could easily be plucked into brown paper bags.

"I love you, Grandpapa," she murmured as she always did, the sincerity of her tone melting his heart. She was his favorite though he'd never say so. "It's a special day, Grandpapa," she said unnecessarily; Hans may have been an old man but he knew what day it was.

"Will you sit?" she asked him.

"I will stand," he said firmly, his fingers brushing the ribbons on his chest.

With his family, Hans Cooperman immigrated to the United States where it was rumored some streets were paved with gold. His father disabused him of that idea before their ship anchored but planted the seeds of love of country, the country that had welcomed them to its shores...

~~~

"Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down."

"Will you go to war?" Annelise's grandmother had asked him one cold day in December 1939. "You don't have to go," she suggested. "No one will compel a man with a weak heart to go to war."

"If my country needs me, I will go to war." he said simply.

But she persisted. "You may have to fight against your own country men, against the Fatherland, Hans. Can you do that?"

"Germany is the land of my birth," he told her, "and I weep for it. But America is my home. This is where I have lived all my growing years, this country have given us a chance at prosperity. Our lives are here, our children are here. If my country goes to war, I will go to war," he said in that tone he used to end a discussion.

World War II - the worldwide conflict - rising from the undeclared wars by Japan and China and threats to peace when Germany attacked Poland. Former doves morphed into hawks, the good life threatened... France and Great Britain entered the conflict and then Italy... the Soviet Union and the United States also sent their young men to die with the rest of them.

"When youíre down and out...
When youíre on the street...
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.
Iíll take your part."

The Army wouldn't take him. They wanted Hans Cooperman but they wouldn't chance taking a man with a heart that beat erratically. They turned him down. Hans knew he couldn't make it through the Marine Corps boot camp - his age and his physical condition excluded him from the rigors of their training. He had one last chance... the U.S. Navy. If they didn't take him, he'd find a way to help the war effort in some other capacity.

"Cooperman?" the Navy recruiter asked. "How long have you been in this country, Herr Cooperman?"

"I'm a citizen," Hans answered proudly in barely accented English. "I immigrated here as a child, went to school here, will proudly serve my country if you'll take me."

"You're German born," the recruiter said unnecessarily. "And you have a heart condition."

"I'm an American and I speak fluent German; I hope I can be of some assistance to the war effort."

"When darkness comes...
And pain is all around...
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down."

It was cold and it stunk with the sweat of fear deep in the hole of the machine room. The ship teetered to one side, slowing filling with water, listing... the sounds of war too loud, too close... God was discovered in that hole... discovered and prayed to... and begged...

Most aboard were dead or dying, the few wounded and alive shell shocked into immobility, or caught by flying debris and pinned to the wet oily floor that would be their final bed.

Seaman Hans Cooperman opened his eyes to a nightmare, the stench of graphite and death filling his nostrils. Bouts of dizziness washed over him as he tried to stand... bile filled his mouth... sounds of distress overwhelming him.

He crawled on his arms, his legs useless and dead behind him and with a strength he didn't know he had, grabbed the arm of a wounded man. He tugged... pulling the unconscious sailor out of the arms of death, a death that would have escorted him to Hell... step by agonizing step... dragging him to safety. And then he saved another... and another... and another...

"Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down."

The nausea was gone, the bile forgotten; he floated... Whatever was being pumped into his veins made him numb; he felt good... It was only later that he realized he was on a hospital ship and that there were too many covers on his lower body. His legs were gone... he was no longer whole.

It was his stoicism that his commanding officer admired. Hans sat straight in his freshly pressed uniform, his spine taut against the back of the wheelchair, the stumps of his missing limbs covered by a light blanket - military issue. With deep respect and ceremony, the Secretary of the Navy pinned the Navy's 2nd highest award on Hans' chest - the Navy Cross.

"For extraordinary combat heroism
in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force."

The Secretary of the Navy noted that the Navy Cross he pinned on Hans' chest joined the Purple Heart that the crusty sailor had received earlier. When the ceremony was completed and congratulations were over, he informed Seaman Hans Cooperman that his presence was requested at the White House where the President of the United States awaited him.

"Sail on silvergirl...
Sail on by...
Your time has come to shine...
All your dreams are on their way...
See how they shine."

They assembled in the Rose Garden, the ravages of war a not-so-distant memory, the distinguished audience of politicians and photojournalists smiling, waving miniature flags, their welcome warm in that aloof way some civilians have who have never seen war up close and personal. Hans sat among a group of combat veterans... some in wheelchairs, some dependent on canes... crutches... walkers... a few relying on their own legs to hold their weight. Few were whole, most maimed, lame, all war weary and all were sitting or standing tall and proud.

The Bronze Star was added to Hans' chest, awarded for his acts of heroism in a combat theater against an opposing armed force. He swallowed hard... he had received much recognition for saving four lives, an act he felt anyone would have done if they had been in that place at that time. In the back of his mind, he kept hearing the words "for meritorious service against an opposing force, for acts of heroism in combat against an opposing force." An opposing force... Germany... the Fatherland...

"If you need a friend
Iím sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind."

11:11:11

Memorial services across America take place on November 11th, the anniversary of the end of World War I at 11:00 A.M. - November 11, 1918 - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

In the city in America where Hans lived... at 11 A.M. all traffic stopped in tribute to the dead, rifle volleys were fired, and a bugler raised his horn, sounding Taps.

"Grandpapa," Annelise said in a hushed voice. "The Veteran's Day parade has begun! There's our flag!"

Old Glory undulated in the slight breeze, the flag bearer walking tall, proud, head high, eyes forward. He walked at a steady pace, slowly... his limp noticeable, his prosthetic leg covered by his uniform pants.

Hans held his hand in a respectful salute... for the flag of his adopted country, for the veteran who held that flag and who had fought in a war.

The veterans came in all shapes and sizes, men and women warriors from all branches of the military, some whole... some lame, all proud. They represented several wars... World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and some that have yet to show up in history books.

Hans saluted them all.

~~~

"Do you think there will ever be an end to war, Grandpapa?" Annelise asked.

"There will always be an armistice. Eventually... there is an armistice."

1918 - November 11th

"If you are going to watch history take place, you must get out of bed now," his father told Hans Cooperman, shaking his small son awake long before cock's crow.

"Will it really be in history books?" Hans asked his father as he pulled heavy woolen pants over his long underwear.

"The Generals have given their word and you and I and very few others will witness the signing of the peace. Hurry! We do not want to be late to watch history take place."

"Is it done?" Hans asked his father when the signatures ending World War I had been affixed and joyous cheering filled the Forest of Compiegne.

"It is done," his father smiled, lifting his son from his shoulders and tossing him in the air with exuberance. Peace has been restored."

"Will we have peace forever?" Hans asked.

His father smiled at the innocence of his son. "An armistice has been declared, Hans. The word armistice simply means... truce. A truce has been established."

"Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind."

~ End ~

Cooperman's grocery store was a few blocks off Michigan Avenue in Chicago when I was growing up. I have fond memories of afternoons sitting with Grandpapa Cooperman. He befriended the hungry child I had been, always slipping me something to eat - home baked pastries, fresh fruit and penny candies, and my first remembered taste of chocolate. I would sit next to him, nibbling the treats while he regaled me with tales of his childhood, and when I was older, with the horrors of war. His granddaughter, Annelise, has a son currently stationed in Afghanistan. She and I ...and the rest of the civilized world... pray for an armistice.

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