A few years ago, our good friend Edna Cook died. Afterwards, her husband, Claude, walked into my office and said, "I just wanted to stop and thank you for what you said about Edna in the paper. Boy, I really miss my girl."
As his eyes welled up and his lips quivered, I said, "You've had a lifetime with a good woman and that's more than most men have."
He said, "I know, but I feel so alone."
Claude sat silent and finally said, "Did you know that I was with Patton's Third Army? I was one of the first soldiers to enter Buchenwald. God help me, I've seen more death than a man ought to. If you want, I'll tell you about it?"
"I would be honored, Claude," was my reply.
Staring into the past, he said, "I was a young GI and just proud to be serving with General George Patton. As we came upon this Buchenwald camp, I figured we'd find American POWs. I was looking forward to the welcome and all the cheering. The guards were SS and they wore the 'dead head.' They surrendered without a shot and as we lined them up, not a prisoner was in sight.
"It was the damndest thing! Dead people began walking out of the barracks. I mean, they looked dead! Many were naked. All were just bones with pale, white skin stretched over them. Their eyes were like doll's eyes! You know, pitch black and sunken back into their heads.
"I turned to my buddy and said, 'Where in the world are we? Have we died and gone to Hell?' When we came to our senses, we called for medics and began to feed and water those poor souls. I had some sort of canned ham and candy, and began to cut it up and feed them. The medics gave me hell. I guess after starving for so long, a body can't take a big helping of chocolate and canned ham. We probably should have known that, but your first instinct is to feed them.
"Later, I took my squad and we pushed deeper into the camp. We found a pile of thousands of dead bodies. Men, women and even kids just piled six to 10 feet in the air and hundreds of yards long. Did you ever smell dead human beings rotting in the sun? Have you? Even to this day, sometimes I wake up at night in a sweat and you know, I can still smell them. We started a Nazi bulldozer and proceeded to bury those poor folks. What else could we do?
"I headed back to the main gate to help the medics, but my sergeant put me in charge of the captured SS guards. Now I'll tell you, I was getting sick to my stomach. I'd seen men die, but I had never thought suffering like this was even possible.
"A captured SS officer smiled at me. I didn't even think. I just doubled up my fist and hit him in the teeth as hard as I could. He crumpled and hit the ground. I straddled him and picked him up by his collar and said, 'After what you've done, smile at me again, you son of a bitch, and I'll shoot you where you stand!' I don't suppose that fellow spoke English, but I'm sure he understood.
"As I stood up, I was shaking. I looked to my right, and there was a woman prisoner all by herself, chewing on a small piece of chocolate cake that some GI had given her. She couldn't have weighed more than 60 pounds. She looked at me and smiled.
"Death? I've seen so much of it and after all these years? Well, you probably think I'm just a crazy old man."
I said, "Not even a little bit, Claude. God bless you for the good life you've lived."
He stood up and said, "I've got to go now." I replied, "Gee, Claude, can I buy you lunch or do you need anything?"
"Nope" he replied.
I asked, "Will you stop back?" He just smiled and walked away. I never saw him again. About a week later, he joined his Edna.
This Saturday, we are hosting a Tea Party at River Valley. It begins at noon. If you agree that we're headed down the wrong road, please join us.
We do not equate our government's corruption and waste to the terror of the Nazis and their SS guards. However, at times, when politicians of either party smile at us and lie, we feel like old Claude Cook and want to scream, "After what you've done to our country, don't you dare smile at us again."
Don't let the efforts of Claude and other patriots be America's last gasp. Let their courage and sacrifice lead us to a better future. Please honor them and all other patriots by attending.
Chuck Pinkey is the owner of River Valley New Holland Inc. in Otego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.