Children are often not wise enough to recognize a mystery until later. When I was about ten years old, Dad told us we would have a special visitor, Manfred Gebaur, a friend of his from Dusseldorf, Germany. He made special plans to entertain him by taking him on a day trip to listen to the carillon bells in a park. I could tell he was pretty excited to be seeing his old friend.
On the appointed day, a good-looking German man showed up at our house, and we drove him to Dayton to hear the bell carols. In their conversations, Dad called him “Fred.” I don’t remember anything else about that day over 60 years ago.
It wasn’t until after my parents’ death many years later that I realized there was something very odd about Dad’s having a German friend. It had been only twelve years since the end of World War II that Manfred had visited us. My dad had been a soldier in the war. What could have happened that a German and an American soldier, sworn enemies, had formed a special bond? And why would that friend want to see Dad so much that he would travel from Germany?
To find the answer, I sent for Dad’s military records to see if I could find some clue, but it turns out there was a fire in the federal building where his records were kept. All of it was destroyed forever, so the knowledge I was looking for died with Dad. During his life, he had been very close-lipped about his war experience.
I remember telling him that if it hadn’t been for him and the other American soldiers, I would probably be speaking German, and I thanked him for what he had done. He only blushed and said he didn’t do anything.
I wonder …