Something I’ll Never Forget
Today I was cleaning out my desk when I came upon a letter from a World War II veteran friend. It was the last letter Pete ever wrote to me. Of course, I didn’t know it would be his last letter.
“Pete” is actually LeRoy Petersohn. The nickname was one he picked up somewhere between basic training and the Battle of the Bulge. Pete was from Chicago, and I was from Montana. He was in his 80s and I was a 20-something mom of three little ones when we first met. I was writing a novel, and Pete lived through the liberation of a concentration camp. After meeting Pete my life as a mom forever changed.
We met when I attended the 11th Armored Division reunion. Pete’s gray hair was combed perfectly and his voice was quiet, timid. Tears rimmed his eyes even before I asked the first question. His lower lip quivered when I asked about his time in the war. Pete was one of the first soldiers who made it through the gates of Mauthausen concentration camp when the German guards surrendered. Pete was also a medic. Tens of thousands of ill and dying prisoners needed his care, and he was only one man.
“It’s something I’ll never forget.” He lowered his head as he spoke.
Pete shared memories of the horrors he saw. But he also told me about someone special.
“When I was making my rounds, helping those as well as I could, I came upon a mother and a child. The baby was so ill…” Pete spend the good part of the day finding milk for the baby and cleaning and lancing the sores that covered her body.
The first time I talked to Pete he had no idea what had happened to that baby girl. Had she survived? Then less than a year after my novel From Dust and Ashes—about the liberation of the camp—was released I received an email from a woman named Hana.
“I was an infant in Mauthausen and a medic saved my life…do you happened to have contact with any of the medics who liberated the camp?” Yes, yes I did.
I cannot describe the joy in Pete’s voice when he called me a few days later. “It was her…Hana is the baby. She’s alive! She has a husband and family. The baby’s alive!”
Tears fill my eyes as I think about that day. They fill my eyes, too, as I re-read the last letter from Pete.
Please forgive my scripting, so be it, as my handwriting has sure gone by the wayside. Thought you might like to have a clipping from the paper of the convention and know that I saw Hana, as she flew in for the main program…
The clipping was from The Kendall County Beacon News and the headline read,
BROUGHT TOGETHER ONCE BY THE HORRORS OF WORLD WAR II AND FATE, PAIR MEETS AGAIN—IN BETTER TIMES
One part of the article reads:
When LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, 87, of Boulder Hill, first met Dr. Hana Berger-Moran, he was a 23-year-old US Army Medic in the 11th Armored Division of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, and she was a 7-week-old baby suffering from massive infection and open sores, and clinging to life.
It’s an amazing story. Can you imagine their reunion? But you may be wondering…how did it change me as a mom?
- I learned to listen. Pete had a story to tell. Out of one million book ideas God placed that idea in my heart. Listening to God’s stirring, led me to Pete. Listening to Pete led to my first novel—a desire of my heart. God didn’t call a New York Times Best-selling author to write this novel. He called me, a Montana mom. God has dreams for us moms, too.
- I learned to respect life. At the time I met Pete I was a volunteer at our crisis pregnancy center. I worked to help women and children—to impact lives—but I did little to show respect to elderly people. They were the slow movers on the roads and in the grocery store. Listening to Pete, and other veterans I interviewed, gave me a glimpse of the young, energetic, heroic people they once where. I learned to respect personal histories. I learned to respect stories and wisdom from long ago.
- I learned to teach these lessons to my children. To listen. To care. To respect. To share. There were numerous times my children joined me as I met veterans for coffee, and the stories they heard are ones they’ll never forget. When my older trio—now adults themselves—think about these veterans they realize they know history in a different, deeper way than most of their peers. They haven’t just read about those times in books, but heard in from heros’ mouths.
Has God put a Pete in your life? Maybe a grandfather, uncle, or friend from your neighborhood and church. Over the next few weeks consider taking time to sit and listen. You’ll be touched by the stories you hear, and you never know who else’s lives will be impacted…mainly your kids!