OUT OF NOWHERE

At the rate we'd been moving through southern Germany
we thought the war couldn't go on much longer. We GI's knew
only what we saw and heard, never being clued in on what the
top brass had in mind. But our advance ceased when we arrived
at the Danube River, where the Gerries were dug in on the other
side.

Our artillery pounded the entrenched Wermacht for two
days and nights. The third night dense fog gave us enough cover
to cross on pontoon bridges. Luckily the Germans had fled, and
we continued our advance southeast toward Austria.

One night around midnight our six-by truck began to
sputter and suddenly konked. Headlights were not allowed, so
we sat there in the dark. Other vehicles in the convoy continued
on, leaving us in the middle of god knows where. We didn't have
a clue as to where the Germans were, and hoped, for once,
they'd gotten far ahead of us.

The guys were nervously getting in any out of the truck,
trying to keep warm, listening for Gerries, and as usual, bitching
like mad. I was sure we'd have to wait until morning for help.
Then, completely unexpectedly, a U.S. Army wreck truck pulled
along side and a sergeant climbed out, saying he was the
mechanic who'd been sent for. We had no idea who sent for
him, and didn't give a damn, but were mighty glad to see him.
Without hesitation, this gruff mechanic opened his tool box
and began checking the dead motor. Having nothing better to
do, I leaned over the opposite fender and watched him working
with light only from a flashlight. Occasionally, he would stop
and look directly at me. A couple of times he even shined his
light in my face. I thought he might be annoyed by my watching
him work, but he didn't say anything so I stayed put.

The silence was broken when he looked up at me and said:
"Where you from, soldier?" (A sergeant calling a GI "soldier"
was a way of showing rank.)
"Pennsylvania, Sergeant" I said.
"Where in Pennsylvania?
"Near Pittsburgh"
He took another look at me and said:
"Where near Pittsburgh?"
"You probably never heard of it", I replied.
"Maybe East McKeesport?" He said.
I was stunned. Nobody but the few thousand who lived
there ever heard of East McKeesport.
"Ah, yea" I pushed out, "East McKeesport"
This was beyond belief. Here I am, in the Army, in a war,
somewhere in southern Germany, in the middle of the night, in a
broken down truck and this mechanic who appears out of
nowhere recognizes me.

He continued: "You lived on McClure Avenue, didn't you?
Now I was really stunned. I was born in a duplex on McClure
Avenue, then an unpaved cinder street, and lived there only
until second grade. How could this guy know where I lived as a
kid? Who the hell was he?

The sergeant pressed further. "What's your name?"
"Renshaw" I replied.
"Oh yea, I remember. "My name's Barker, John Barker"
My chin must have hit the fender.

Chills still run up my spine when I think about it. It was the
depths of the depression. The Barkers, Mrs. and her four or five
kids, lived in a garage in the alley behind our place. They were
the poorest of the poor, always in rags, and often hungry. My
mother and neighbor women would send them leftover food.
The Barker kids always looked unwashed and even smelled bad.
I doubt that there was running water in their garage. We kids
never let the Barkers play with us, and, worst of all, called
Johnny "Dumb-dumb Barker". Fortunately I didn't blurt out, "Oh
you were the kid we called "Dumb-dumb!"

We talked while he continued to work, probably about our
home town, school, people we both knew, whatever. Shortly he
got the truck running and the guys loaded up. As we parted,
Sergeant Barker and Private Renshaw, shook hands and promised
to look one another up when we got back to East McKeesport.
But we never did.

Ren Renshaw. October26, 2006