Henri-Chapelle, Belgium – July 27, 2007
“Go tell the Spartans, thou who pass by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”
Simonides of Keos (c. 556 BC – c. 468 BC) of the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae
J.P. Kilroy walked slowly past the building up the trail adorned by large beds of pink Polyantha roses. Cynthia Powers clutched his arm with one hand and held a small map in the other. She was reading the markers along the trail.
“Take a right here,” she instructed and they turned onto another wide concrete footpath.
“Thanks for coming with me, Cynthia.”
“Of course. You’re welcome.”
“I should have figured this out years ago. West was right when he said I had what I needed to find out the secret. And it’s true. I just couldn’t put it all together.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. It was an illogical conclusion to come to.”
“I’m not beating myself up. But I should have figured it out.”
“All you knew of your father was what you observed for your first twenty years. You had nothing to compare that to. Why would you have even suspected he wasn’t your real father?”
“I didn’t have anything to compare to at the time but the old men revealed a lot about both men that I should have picked up on. It was the innocent things they told me that contained all the information I needed.”
“Well, like what was Harley doing at the Medal ceremony? I should have suspected something from the start. Harley had little contact with my real father. But he did have a connection with Jake.”
Cynthia reflected about that for a moment. “That’s only obvious after you know the answer but not obvious enough to point you to the answer. Besides, no one was looking for proof that your father was your father. There were a lot of mysterious things that happened to them during the War. There was the secret mission to Rome, the suspicious death of Sergeant Bancroft, Harley killing prisoners, the unexplained souvenirs. The secret could have been associated with any of those bizarre things.”
“You’re right. Those things muddied the waters but when it came to the differences and similarities between Jake and Johnny, I was asleep at the switch. For example, Jake smoked and the guys told me Johnny didn’t smoke. Another one…Johnny apparently didn’t know how to swim. Jake taught me how to swim.”
“But those are attributes that can change. People can smoke, then quit and smoke again. They can learn to swim. You can’t identify a person by these characteristics.”
“And what about the marked up Bible?” he continued undeterred. “If we would have read the marked passage of Luke chapter twenty, verse twenty-eight maybe we would have picked up on it.”
Cynthia squinted as she tried to remember. “When a man’s married brother dies the brother shall take the woman and raise the children for his brother.” She deliberated for a few seconds. “Not exactly accurate but I think he may have marked it up after the fact. Probably to rationalize what he was doing.”
They walked on in silence for a few minutes, Cynthia checking her map frequently. She looked up and took a breath of the clean summer air. On the near horizon were groups of Sperbian and Norway spruce mixed with Hawthorns. The weeping willows reverently guarding the perimeter were a poignant touch.
“Harley always said ‘I’m Jake’s cousin’, not ‘I was Jake’s cousin’. He always spoke as if Jake were still alive. And if Jake was still alive…” J.P. left the sentence unfinished.
Cynthia turned them right onto a wide path in the grass and J.P. followed.
“And the man who raised me was smart but he did not have a photographic memory. But the real clincher was the citation. When Lincoln told me I had everything I needed to figure out the secret, he must have been talking about the citation. With the “entered service at” and “birth place” information, it would have been pretty obvious that the Medal of Honor was awarded to Jake Kilroy and not John Patrick Kilroy.”
“We both missed that. We read right past it, never noticed it. It never really registered. Still, what happened was so implausible, so unbelievable, I’m not sure we could have figured it all out without Macie.”
“Maybe you’re right, Cynthia.” J.P. paused for a moment. “I had a dream the other night. It was weird. I usually don’t remember dreams but this one was so real.”
“What was it about?”
“Johnny and Jake, my real father and his best friend who raised me, were young and walking together in full combat gear into a mist. Each had his arm around the other’s shoulder. Then the mist cleared and all these other paratroopers in full jump gear were standing in front of the open door of a C-47, like they were waiting for the two men. I never saw these faces before but I knew who they were.”
“Who were they?”
“Their names were Boothe, Angelo, Copping, Wolff, Gorham and Tedesco. Somehow I recognized Christian, Smith, Stockett, Goldbacher, Turnbull, Sosa, Zebrosky and Danny Boy. And of course I knew the younger versions of Frank, Sky, Harley and Lincoln. Some of these guys never came back and others died in their beds. I don’t know how I knew them but I did. And they were all waiting for the Kilroys. When the plane’s motors started they all began boarding. Someone yelled out, ‘Hey Kilroys. Are you guys brothers?’ The two men answered together. They said ‘forever!’ They all boarded and took off.”
“That is a heart-wrenching dream.”
“I know. It touched me. I woke myself up crying. But it’s comforting to know they were somehow together for the last jump, even if it was only a dream.”
They came to a bench and sat down for a moment, both winded from the walking. “Are you okay with this whole thing?” she asked him.
“I am after reading this.” He handed her an envelope. She opened it. The letter was handwritten on yellowing paper with tattered edges. She read it carefully as some of the words were difficult to discern.
By now I’m sure you wish to understand why we went through such trouble to keep you in the dark. There are so many reasons. I didn’t want to embarrass your mother even though as time went on she encouraged me to confess. You had a life to build and I didn’t want to see you starting off with the mindset of a victim. That role stimulates some people but destroys others. I couldn’t take the chance. I also didn’t think it would be helpful if you learned exactly how your real father died. The circumstances were bizarre and I wouldn’t want them to diminish all he accomplished before that. And I didn’t want you to blame me even though I blamed myself every day of my life. When you add all this up, it just seemed better not to tell you. And we all entered into a pact to keep it that way. Please remember this was all done out of respect for your mother and love for you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us, especially me.
Cynthia handed back the letter without comment and they resumed walking. She took in the wide panoramic vista of the perfectly manicured fifty-seven acres of the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial. The marble headstones, each with a small American flag fluttering at its base, were arranged in precise concentric arcs sweeping across a broad green lawn that sloped gently downhill.
She turned them to the left between two white crosses and walked up three rows. “It’s right over there,” she pointed and stepped back. They had found the exact monument they were looking for.
J.P. Kilroy dropped to his knees and touched the white marble cross.
JOHN P. KILROY
PVT 506 PRCHT INF REGT
NEW YORK AUGUST 15, 1945
“I know it took a long time for me to finally get here, Dad, but I’m here now.”
He brushed his fingers lightly across his father’s name and the tears began to pour in a torrent. J.P. tried to fight them back but he couldn’t stem the flow as all the pent-up guilt and anxiety flushed out of his body. As he tried unsuccessfully to stifle his uncontrollable whimpering, he found himself staring through watery eyes at the small American flag.
Finally, he bent over and uttered a barely audible choking whisper. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.” Then he slowly raised his head, wiped his eyes, forced a weak but sincere smile and gently touched the flag.
“Thank you Dad, for saving my country.”