Bonner Hall stooped down and flicked a Japanese beetle off the barely open rose blossom. He paused to relish the fragrance and take in the beauty unfolding before him. Bonner was sixty years my senior, quiet, spent most of his time putzing in his rose garden and cleaning freshly caught bluegills, his wrinkled hands now struggling to keep a knife blade steady. He was a hobbyist woodworker with a tiny shop tucked away in his basement lined with baby food jars nailed to the rafters filled with screws and tacks. He had an assortment of 1950’s vintage Sears power tools. All underpowered and wobbly by today’s standards, but somehow he managed to turn out some beautiful furniture pieces. I remember the first time I stood in his shop in the early 1980’s. He was finishing up a doll bed for a very lucky great grand daughter. “Doll bed” is such a poor way to describe it. More like a wonderful miniature with a piece of nicely figured walnut highlighting the graceful headboard. Like that rose blossom, one of those pieces that begged you to pause for a closer look. Bonner took note that I at least had eye enough to appreciate it, and that moment somehow bridged the gap between our ages.
On the wall above his workbench almost hidden amongst the collection of chisels and workshop flotsam was a small framed portrait. A pastel sketch of a young army officer with ruddy cheeks, a strong jaw and penetrating blue eyes. Bonner tapped his pipe against the edge of his workbench and didn’t look up as he said,
“That was me in Paris on leave, right after the battle of the Argonne Forrest in 1918, hard to believe I was ever that young?”
Like most veterans he had few words to share about what he endured in the Meuse- Argonne offensive that claimed thousands of American soldiers, other than it was rough. He changed the subject by pulling down an old wooden bench plane from a cubbyhole and began loading me up with a box of hand tools and a small bundle of walnut cutoffs.
Bonner’s generosity is one that I know so well amongst woodworkers. Passing along tools, wood, and freely sharing hard won knowledge. But Bonner passed on something more. Apart from being a fine example of a man, he unashamedly brought his love for the things he cherished into the furniture he created. It makes no sense to put so much labor into a rose that can only be appreciated for a moment, or a doll bed that may not be appreciated by a child until Bonner was long gone. Yet he had other reasons to squeeze life out of every moment – 14,000 of them buried in the fields of eastern France. It’s somehow fitting that when Bonner’s heart finally gave out, he crumpled to the ground out in his beloved rose garden. We should all be so lucky.
George R. Walker
Our Veterans don’t get enough credit or respect, if anyone could see what a soldier goes through in one such engagement they would have endless nightmares. If you were there no explanation is necessary, if not no explanation is possible.
I’m always inspired by stories of personal strength, especially when the story involves leadership. There are few that can equal the five days that Major Charles Whittlesey and his battlalion, the 308th Infantry of the 77th Infantry Division, endured in the Argonne Forest during October 1918. The good Major led 550 men into an attack of a German position and was immediately cut off inside enemy lines. By the sheer force of his will, he held together his battalion against daily ferocious attacks by a determined enemy, following the last order he was given. Without a chance of resupply of food and ammunition and tethered to his headquarters only by the use of carrier pigeons, the 308th fought off the Germans day after day, at times hand to hand.
Frustrated by their inability to overcome the tiny force, the Germans offered Whittlesey the chance to surrender. He refused and continued to fight off attacks until he was finally relieved. 194 men of the original 550 walked out of that battle with him.
This was one of the most gruesome wars the United States has ever been involved in. But we always produced the Leaders to come up and whip the enemy.
When I was young I spend weekends at a friends house. I would lay awake in the guest room listening to her father call to his men on the Normandy beaches – all long dead. For hem they died every night.
Only warriors know the cost of war.
Thank you for sharing your memory.
Yes, thanks. A very moving story.
Thank you for sharing the story about Mr. Bonner Hall. For me it was much later, in the late 60, while on a hospital bed. I heard many nights to the screams of pain of Special Forces men after their 4th or 7th bout of surgery due to injuries suffered in Viet Nam. Many of the nurses who cared for us had seen the horrors. Yet they all endured, and became once again civilians of our great country.
But it is difficult to see your buddies return from battle in caskets, or disfigured…