People usually can find a way to communicate, if they want to do so.
Capt. Gary and First Sergeant Goldy occasionally are visited by Italians — usually a busload at a time.
Nobody else we meet is as friendly and energetic as the Italians, most of whose command of English is pretty much limited to “Thank you!” They usually have a few folks who can translate.
Frank Calemine taught me just enough Italian to get me in trouble, but I don’t use any of that.
Italians are just as fond of standing with the soldiers at the cannon to have their pictures taken as anyone else is.
To all of them, I say “Benvenuti!” which means “Welcome!”
To the ladies, I say “Benvenuti, bella!” which means “Welcome, beautiful!” If you don’t think this gets smiles ... .
We had more Italians a couple of weeks ago, and they were just as much fun as all the others.
Gary and I were surrounded by them at the cannon, when one fellow who was about to take a photo told us to “Say cheese!”
I called out “Formaggio!” and all of them whooped and cheered.
Not all of our visitors are as much entertaining ... at least not as far as the captain is concerned.
By his own admission, he was a bit shaggy. One lady asked if his was a regulation haircut, and he said something about how we didn’t have many barbers in our unit.
Judging from photos I’ve seen, there was no such thing as a regulation Civil War-era haircut. Certainly nothing was said about beards.
People frequently want us how long we’ve been there, and Gary always asks “What year is it?”
One lady pointed to him, remarked, “His hair was still brown when they came here!” and walked on ... which was just as well.
There ensued considerable muttering on the captain’s part, and it went on for a while.
I said he should take comfort from the fact that my hair was completely gray while his was not, and that “She should have seen me last week before I had about four inches of it cut off.”
Some bikers in Harley-Davidson gear asked if they could get their pictures taken with us.
I was tempted to say, “You’re Harley guys, so that’s OK. If you were (Honda) Gold Wing riders, I might have to think about it.”
But I didn’t. Some of my friends are bikers, and the Harley and Honda people have fun with each other.
My Harley buddies refer to Japanese motorcycles as “rice burners.” One guy who rides a Gold Wing likes to point to oil stains on the pavement and say, “Look, Goldy, somebody had a Harley parked here.”
I frequently ask folks, “Where are you from?”
One of the Harley guys grinned at me and said, “My mom!”
Whatever followed — if anything — I don’t know, because everybody (including me) started laughing so hard that we became incoherent. I told him I had to remember that and use it.
Up the walk came an older gentleman who was being tugged along by a tiny white furry dog.
“Buttons wanted to come and see you,” he said. We had met Buttons — who was just a few months old — and his mom and dad at the motel where we were staying.
Gary and I are both dog people, but it took Buttons a while to make up to us.
His papa held Buttons up for us to pet, and the little fellow licked my fingers (but not Gary’s) ... probably because I’d had a sausage, egg and cheese bagel for breakfast that morning.
One of our visitors was of Mexican descent. He was married and living in Texas, but his wife was in Mexico.
She had been brought here illegally by her parents when she was very young, but went back to Mexico and now cannot return because of laws that in effect are punishing her for something she had no control over when she was a child.
He told me about what he was trying to do to change her situation, and it damn near broke my heart. I hugged him and told him I would pray for them. It’s about all I can do.
It was World War II weekend in Gettysburg, and the town was full of re-enactors driving around in Jeeps, deuce-and-a-halfs (trucks) and other vintage vehicles that must be worth a small fortune.
If the captain and I had period-correct transportation, it would carry us about on four legs instead of wheels.
Several of these guys were standing outside the motel as we were packing the car and getting ready to check out.
I went over to say hello, but suddenly stopped and began to stare at one man and the patch on the shoulder of his uniform.
“I’ve seen that before,” I thought. “I know what it is.”
So I introduced myself, shook his hand and told him, “Your division’s only Medal of Honor recipient graduated from my high school.”
“What’s his name?” the fellow asked.
“Ed Kelley,” I said, and that’s when his jaw dropped and his eyes flew wide open. He knew that it was at Kesternich, in Germany, where U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kelley did what he did to be awarded America’s highest decoration ... posthumously.
Some of my friends went to school with Jonah Edward Kelley and knew him.
A few others, the 78th Lightning Division’s survivors and their families, come once a year to my home town for Keyser High School’s Kelley Award ceremony and a reception the night before at the Moose lodge.
This award honors an outstanding senior class boy (the Katharine Church Award goes to an outstanding girl) in Kelley’s memory.
The younger 78th guys frequently travel far and wide to honor one of the highest traditions that America and Keyser possess.
I told them how proud I was that they do this and said I would keep them advised about next year’s Kelley Award.
Who knows? Some of them might show up for it to meet their older brothers.
What a reunion that would be.