My great-uncle Nicky was the second-to-the-youngest of my grandfather’s five brothers. He was missing most of his right index finger.
During WWII, while my grandfather turned out copper ship hulls as a foreman at the Revere Copper and Brass rolling mill, Nicky and four other brothers were GIs. I think Nicky was the only one to see combat.
“Uncle Nicky was at Anzio,” my mother confided. “And the South Pacific.”
As a child, I had no real idea what she was talking about, although Anzio was a cool and somehow romantic word. I used to say it to myself as I waited to fall asleep. Anzio, Anzio. I pictured Uncle Nicky as a fierce soldier dressed like my cousin’s GI Joe action figure, with a gun that blew up, taking his trigger finger with it.
It was only much later that I found Anzio on a map and learned about the bloody and pivotal battle that took place there in the first six months of 1944. Uncle Nicky saw hell in Italy, then was sent to help mop up the Japanese. As if this wasn’t enough for a young man to handle, Nicky’s young wife died shortly after the war.
Despite his experiences, when I knew him, Uncle Nicky was a lively, wiry, and good-natured man who occasionally visited my grandparents. It was many years later that I learned that he hadn’t been wounded in the war but lost his finger as a youth in a kitchen accident.
Uncle Nicky may have encouraged my love of history and geography but many veterans have impacted my life. My father was an Air Force meteorologist at a Strategic Air Command base when my parents met. A good friend parachuted into the first Iraq War and served as an awesome role model teaching my son how to be an altar server. A close friend’s husband served in Afghanistan. He survived multiple IED attacks only to face an indifferent and inefficient VA system.
The courage and strength of our vets have moved me, especially when I see wounded warriors rebuild their lives and go beyond what most of us could do. If like me, you are a fan of Dancing With The Stars, you saw double amputee Noah Galloway compete a few seasons ago. His resilience and determination resonated with millions.
I paid tribute to our veterans in the character of Joe Birnam in the thriller AWAKENING MACBETH. In the story, Joe is a Marine Corps vet who lost a leg in Iraq. When we meet him, he has retired from the military and rebuilt his life. Not to give the plot of AWAKENING MACBETH away, but a centuries old game is being played every night as we sleep in which the devil steals souls that wander in search of answers.
In history professor Brodie Macbeth’s nightmares, Joe’s soul is the prize.
Why this particular soul? The would-be thief—call him evil or a demon or what you will—provides the answer.
“After all, the soul of a warrior is the biggest prize in the game. Warriors’ souls get insulated by pride and patriotism and discipline. Dedication to duty.
“They’re hard to come by.”