The woods were quiet that day and very peaceful. As usual, dad was pretty tired. He had a job that kept them going from morning till night every day. There were a lot of people in that area who needed dads help and dad never turned anyone down. He had grown up poor and without his mom. He knew what it was to struggle. He learned to work and work hard at an early age.
To be honest, dad was a workaholic but he had a heart as big as Texas for hurting people. Back when he was a young man, there were a lot of people like him. So, shouldering his trusty weapon, he got out of out of his vehicle and started the long trudge the forest. As he entered the woods he stopped and just enjoyed the serenity that God had made. After helping a lot of daily people in the city for the last few months, it felt so good to finally be in a place of beauty and rest.
The snow was deep in the air was frosty but my father was determined to go out into the woods and shoot some deer that day. He had with him his favorite weapon. It was the kind of rifle that hardly any of his neighbors had ever seen. He had borrowed it especially for this trip and hoped the owner didn’t find out how it was used. He was breaking the law for a good cause and he had to have that rifle. It was a little too big for carrying through the brush but it carried a powerful wallop that knocked down just about anything that it hit.
As my father stood there breathing in the bracing air of cold December morning, the lines of a Robert Frost poem stream through his sleepy mind:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Then, glancing back towards the city one once more, he began to walk silently through the knee-deep snow to a hill where he would have a view of the terrain below. When he got there he took up a position behind a large oak tree whose huge branches sagged with damp snow. He crouched down on his haunches and waited, weapon at the ready.
After about an hour, he heard a noise at the treeline in the clearing below. A large rack of horns was twitching in the bushes, then another and then another. Large puffs of warm air began to cloud the scene below as the group sniffed and snorted and looked this way and that way to see and smell whatever may lie ahead. But dad was downwind of them and these deer had not seen a human in their woods for a long time. Sensing safety, the small herd moved out into the clearing and began to trudge through the thick snow directly parallel to dad’s position. They had about 100 yards to cross before they reach the other tree line.
At about the 50-yard line, dad could clearly see that there were 16 of them. They couldn’t move very fast and they were bunched up. He wasn’t used to doing this. He felt a little guilty about shooting the deer. He knew he could get in trouble with his boss but then he said to himself, “It’s the right thing to do. I get punished, I get punished.” Without another thought, he shouldered his rifle.
Unlocking the safety, he leveled the big gun towards the 16 deer slowing passing just 50 yards away, single file in the crunching snow. Starting at the front and working to the back, he emptied his custom-built 30-round clip of into the herd in automatic fire. They all died in an instant.
After saying a short prayer of gratitude to God, dad turned around and headed back to his vehicle on the road. The snow was still deep and the potholes in the road were still incredibly dangerous but his heart was light.
As he came down the mountain dirt road onto the paved road leading into town, he began to sing a song he had learned as a child from his Irish father:
Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside.
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!
He could almost hear his father belting out with his big Irish tenor voice. He knew his father would be proud of him that day. He had done something that his father would’ve done if he had been there… in a small valley white with snow.
Dad’s vehicle bounced into town over the crazy ruts that were everywhere. He could see row after row of darkened houses. The electricity for the town had been lost months ago. As the roar of his vehicle, straining in second gear, came to a halt, dozens of kids poured out of their strange-looking homes and ran up to his brown jeep. They expected to get some candy or maybe some chewing gum from the 19-year-old man they had come to love.
“Go get your father’s,” he shouted. “And if you don’t have a father, get your mother.” He knew that most of the men in the city were dead except for the grandfathers. The kids looked at him with a puzzled face but then turned and ran back to their homes.
In about an hour, a large truck carried 15 men and women up the same snow-covered dirt road that my dad had just driven through. They were going to get the deer. They couldn’t believe that they were going to actually eat meat that night. Their food supplies were all but gone and no one in town owned a gun of any kind to shoot a deer. New laws prevented gun ownership.
So, in that town full of broken hearts and broken windows, a ray of hope had come. Hunger had made them hopeless. But this 19-year-old American GI wasn’t going to let them go hungry this day! He pushed his M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle into the back seat and headed back to base.
It was Christmas Day 1945, in Bayreuth, Germany.
My dad still loves to feed people and take them to dinner. He did that day. A true story!