~ 22 April 1864, Somewhere in Schleswig-Holstein
Ailbe Stuhr bit off a piece of the hard, stale bread. Careful to chew only on his left side so as not to fail the precarious coagulation from the long bloody gash bandaged across his right cheek. If only he could sleep. His bed of straw rattled along with the constant squeal of the wheel flanges as the train crawled and clacked across Schleswig-Holstein from Flensburg to Kiel.
Three days ago, Ailbe belonged to a Prussian artillery company bombarding Dybbøl against the Danes’ last stand. Assessing their victory, Ailbe walked through the streets to the shelled Holstein Hotel. He entered the barely standing hotel and found a dozen or more civilians dead upon the floor where they had sought shelter from the exploding shells. Smoke rising around him carried the aroma of ash and death along ghostly wisps that tethered him to a world he could never unsee. Tears flowed from the realization of this battue of Danish civilians unknowingly led to slaughter. But that moment of immense sorrow imploded when a young boy jumped out of the shadows and cleaved his cheek with a sharp knife. He cried out and fell. His fellow soldiers shot the boy dead; amidst the miasma of pain and the blood, he swore it was the face of his own son gracing the dead boy whose lifeless body collapsed. But such pain soon suffocated his conscious, and he woke next to the medic with bandages around his head waiting for transport to Flensburg. His face, stained blood red, burned and throbbed with each breath. Thankful, at least, that the anesthetic thoughts of his wife and family back home in Segeberg could at least partially assuage the pain.
~ 7 May 1870, Wahlstedt, Segeberg District, S-H.
Emmeline Stuhr stirred, awoken by the groans of pain and helplessness that disturbed her husband’s sleep. The scar along his right cheek ever a reminder of their long-ended war against Denmark, but his nightmares continued. She wished the doctors could help, but while they said he was physically fine, perhaps, they thought, it might be neurasthenia, a new American diagnosis. Regardless, she knew he suffered something. While he was the same, he was also different. At times more attentive and sensitive, but also distant and askew to the reality that life required. Never mean or cruel, he needed his time alone, but he also hated it. So, she worked their household to be the wife, mother, and partner to the man who fights and works for them every day. Some days she struggles to hold them all together, but she never doubts, nor will she ever, the love she has for Ailbe, and his love and commitment to her, the twins, and their precious daughter.
“Ailbe, Ailbe,” she softly said hoping to calm whatever evil kept his sleep unsound.
He woke up and looked at her with fear in his eyes. “Emma, the twins…are the twins okay, are they safe?”
“Yes, Ailbe, they are asleep in their room. Do you want me to check?”
“No, that’s okay,” he said as his eyes calmed, and the red escaped his cheeks.
“Are you having that dream again? About Dybbøl and the boy?”
Ailbe tried to breathe to slow his mind; he sat up and held his head in his hands. “Yes, I am, but now I see our boys among the dead then rising up and attacking me. Slicing me across the face each time.”
Emmeline put her arm around Ailbe’s shoulders and leaned her head next to his, if only she could take away this demon, if only she could. But she couldn’t, so she did everything she could, she closed her eyes and prayed. A prayer not of words but of emotional supplication and heartfelt desire for her, Ailbe, Hansi, Harimann, and Elsie. A prayer for help and guidance.
That morning, Ailbe walked outside. His sons were doing their chores while Elsie worked the garden. Looking down the road, he saw Koenraad, his neighbor, driving his wagon to deliver the most current copy of the Schleswigsche Grenzpost.
“Moin neighbor,” said Koenraad.
Ailbe replied, “Moin, my good man. What’s new in the world?”
“Well, get this, America has granted the right to vote to their former slaves.” But assuming a more somber and contrite composure, he continued. “The Prussian government has called Napoleon the third ‘fat, affable, but fragile.’ But the real news is the rumor that Napoleon needs war with Prussia to preserve his rule.” ~ Continued on page 13
Ailbe cursed then reached up with his now clammy hands to rub his scar and asked, “What about Bismarck?”
“War would also be good for him. Bismarck believes that war with France would finally unite Bavaria and the southern lands under his rule.”
“You bring nothing but good news, my friend.”
Koenraad laughed and tossed a copy of the newspaper to Ailbe. “Here’s your copy. And remember, Mili and I want you all over for dinner soon.”
“We’re all looking forward to it.”
Koenraad drove off. And Ailbe strangled the newspaper with a clenched fist until the ink bled out and stained his hands. He could never welcome another war, and he would never let his sons join the fight regardless of the cause. In this he knew he was right. His sons would never share his suffering. They deserved a better life. And thinking of how America has dealt with the former slaves, he believed that perhaps America was the answer for his children.
~ 10 May 1870, Munich, Bavaria
The Munich Hauptbahnhof was a dirty, busy place. Trains hissed and smoked, people and luggage slogged within an interweaving mass on platforms that trembled alongside the massive engines. Oil and grease indented the wooden platforms and walkways with footprints of travelers long passed. Every squeal and whistle would distract the crowds as they sought their own destination. Tikva and her daughter stood nervously within the mass. They came from Bucharest and just finished this leg from Rosenheim on a partially completed track.
For the last several weeks, Tikva, her husband Dawud, and their daughter traveled to Munich. Bucharest was no longer safe for them. The Wallachian Revolution of 1848 had finally united Bucharest under a Romanian flag. But having been ruled for years under the Ottomans, the Greeks, the Russians, and the Austrians, Romanian nationalism grew discriminatorily aggressive. Tikva had married her beloved Dawud. The marriage between a Jew and a Muslim was not uncommon, and acceptance from their traditional Ottoman millets may have been precarious, but it was safe. That is until growing Romanian nationalism split their communities.
Tikva, having corresponded with her aunt in Hamburg, learned how German leaders and their states have begun to welcome new visitors into their culture. Her aunt invited Tikva and her family to come there and live in peace and prearranged temporary accommodations for her niece and family in Munich. Departing the Munich train station, they eventually made their way to the Bayerischer Hof where Tikva’s aunt had arranged their stay. Walking up to the desk, Tikva explained their situation to the Empfangsherr. The clerk, prepared for their arrival, asked, “Where is your husband Dawud?”
The young girl lowered her head in shame. Tikva expected this question and struggled her answer through a wave of sorrow swelling tears, “I’m sorry, but he was unable to survive the trip. I hope that won’t be a problem.”
“I’m so sorry,” said the Empfangsherr. “But don’t worry your stay is all arranged.” And looking at Tikva’s daughter, he asked, “Is this your daughter?”
“Yes,” replied Tikva through her tears. “This is my daughter, Adamina.”
Adamina stood strong for her mother. Resting on her shoulders like the epaulieres of armor, her straight black hair framed a stygian distrust for all men following the murder of her father. But in his mid-twenties, the clerk was about eight years her elder, and she gazed deeply into his blue eyes searching for that hatred that killed her father and filled her. Finding nothing but genuine kindness, her dark eyes brightened, and she spoke the formal greeting that her aunt had taught her. Adamina smiled and said, “Guten Tag.” The clerk responded appropriately, and perhaps, at least for a time, Adamina felt safe.
~ 7 June 2019, 0600, Spandahlem AB, Germany
Kylie sat in the PAX terminal waiting for boarding on the C-17 Globemaster III. Noah sat with his fellow crew chiefs playing Spades, and Kylie along with her fellow specialists played Hearts. Pointy heads and crew dogs always had a friendly rivalry, but both were glad not to be weapon pukes. Weapon troops were a cliquish bunch. But all three groups along with supervision sat quietly, played cards, watched movies, read, or whatnot.
Spades and Hearts have been the staple of military card games for decades. The other staple of military life has been the ubiquitous hurry up and wait. This morning was no different. And everyone found something to pass the time while the C-17 loadmaster secured their equipment. Their classified mission brief instructed them to fly sorties from Ciechanow, Poland into Ukraine and present American Airpower in solidarity with the Ukrainian government, NATO, and against Russian aggression. OPSEC and COMSEC would be tight in Poland, no FaceTime back home. Kylie was thrilled at this mission and felt secure in her training and leadership. She picked up the new hand dealt to her, unfortunately its only spade was the Queen. Unlike this current game of Hearts, this mission was fascinating. She thought, what could possibly go wrong. Then having lost that round, she lost the game of Hearts.