I stood shivering in the cold, bundled up tight yet frozen to the core.
“Mr. Atkins?” I called into the door, numbly knocking against the hardwood. A short moment later, the door gave way, revealing the smiling and bespectacled face of an elderly man. His thin grey hair was neatly combed away from his forehead, a thick wool sweater and tailored pants fit to his narrow frame. The years were worn deep into his skin.
Slowly hobbling away, the echo of his cane dampened in the small space. ‘Hurry up, don’t let all the heat out!”
‘So, what did you need help with?” I asked, scanning the cozy room. A brown corduroy couch took up most of the space, and a small teak desk sat in the corner by the room’s only window. But what caught my attention were the photos. Every square inch of wall space, from floor to ceiling, was covered in frames. Lined carefully on the mantel, positioned carefUlly on his desk, some just taped to the wall. I reached down and carefully picked up an older photo, the warm firelight glinting softly on the brass frame. In it, a proud young man in a stiff army jacket looked back at me.
Over at his desk, Mr. Atkins adjusted his glasses, “Well, my daughter bought me this electronic picture frame for the photographs my friend sent me on the computer, you know?” He turned the old monitor towards me, showing me the open email. Many of the photos were blurry, improperly scanned or dulled with time I didn’t know, but I tried to make them the best I could. Friends, family, comrades all immortalized on the screen, windows into a different time. Mr. Atkins caught my stare, my attention glued to one image in particular. Two young men, a soldier and a man in everyday clothes, jubilant smiles plastered on their faces as they embraced. But there was something off, something in their eyes, a weariness that usually belonged to people twice their age, Upon closer inspection, the other man’s pant leg hung limp. At the bottom: Henry and Lawrence Atkins, 1945
“It was 1942.1 was 18, freshly drafted.”
“We attacked at Puys early in the morning, the cover ofdarkness and surprise on our side, or so we thought. I remember the splash and then the cold rushing into my boots as vie made land. The chatter ofmachine guns filled the air, the impact of bullets sinking into the sand beneath myfeet, into myfriends. Mortar shells fell like rain, each explosion stunning, invisible waves heating us hack. Although I hardly noticed much ofwhat was going on, my head was filled with cotton, and my ears full of ringing. The adrenaline narrowed my vision, and my pounding heart kept me going.”
“We raised a hell of a fight, some ofus even breaching the seawall. But we were pinned to the beach; the English Channel at our backs, sheer cliffs towering ahead. We couldn’t even retreat.”
“Many died that day; the rest of us, captured. Two and a ha Ifyears a prisoner in German labour camps, until the warfinally ended; before I returned home. I reinenzber stepping off the boatfor the first time and smiling. Fathers, brothers, sons, and daughters were home as heroes after years away, reuniting with loved ones they thought they might never see again, and well if it wasn’t the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
Mr. Atkins sat with a sad smile on his face, the frame in his hands, Dimly, the backlit photos cast a pale glow on his features, flickering every 15 seconds or so as a new memory slid into place. Blinking, the silver tears that lined his eyes escaped, tracing the paths decades had etched deep into his skin.
I looked around at all the photos, the memories adorning the small room. Overexposed, grimy, yet perfectly preserved and treasured black and white photos. 60-year-old medals, as shiny as if they were just awarded. An old army issue jacket was neatly pressed and hung on the back of the door.
Outside, the sounds of children laughing and playing drifted through the window. A bright red ball whizzed and bounced off the pavement, a group of kids chased after it with hockey sticks seemingly indifferent to the cold and oblivious to the sacrifices this man and thousands of others throughout many wars and conflicts, had made.
It struck me then, everything those brave people had lost, only for us to forget. Their friends, their families, their youth, their health, often even their happiness, reminders draging them back through their worst expenences day after day. But their sacrifices are not irrelevant until they are forgotten, which is why I will always remember.