The Sky is Falling
"There," he pointed.
He watched his grandson strain on his tippy-toes to find the marker in the green field that had been embedded not in the soil, but Pierre's memory. Pierre's eyes glistened, as always, he had just stepped backward in time to July 13, 1944, a day tattooed with the ink of blood in his mind. He lifted the child in his arms, held him close, and inconspicuously wiped his tears. The boy didn't need to see that.
"I was standing right about here," Pierre spun them around, "when the airplane fell from the sky. A plume of black smoke spiraled across the sky. We'd been listening to the dogfight among the clouds. It was hot that day, and I hoped that any second the pilot would bring the nose up and land safely in the field."
On that fateful morning, Pierre, his family, and neighbors, watched in fear as the trapeze act of violent aircraft battles unfolded, showering them below with smoldering remnants of shell casings and bullets. With his ears tuned in, Pierre distinguished the sounds of allied Spitfires and enemy Messerschmitts battle it out on a terrain made of air.
"How did the plane catch fire?" The blue-eyed boy asked as he visualized a plane in the vast sky. He imitated the sound of airplanes flying, shoom-shoom. He coveted a collection of plastic and balsa wood model planes in his room—a passion he inherited from his grandfather.
"It was shot down." Pierre didn't say by Germans. His sweet daughter-in-law was German; it would only confuse the boy. "It was during the war."
Pierre set the boy down, took his hand again, and walked over the field planted with this year's crop, then paused. "He crashed here. If he hadn't maneuvered the plane, he would have crashed right into your grandmother's house." Pierre left off the inconceivable,' we would have all perished, we wouldn't be standing here.'
The boy stooped down and picked up a black clod of fertile soil and held it in his palm. "Was it a big airplane?" The boy asked, turning to look up at the man casting a long shadow across the field.
"No. It was a Spitfire. Like the one I keep on the mantle by the fireplace."
"Did the pilot get hurt?"
Pierre turned away. No matter how many years passed, tears still started in his nose, glistened in his eyes, all for a man he never knew. Memories of that oppressively hot day in July, when he watched the black plume of smoke, the ratatat of machine-gun fire, the pop of explosions, that acrid smell of death, often triggered unexpectedly. Pierre never intended to lie to the boy.
"Yes. His plane was shot down by an angry hive of five Messerschmitts." His grandson knew all about the agile enemy planes that they often played with on the wooden floor. Grandpa always had to play the bad guy. "Then his parachute got caught in the tail of the plane. He crashed right here."
The sight of the broken but still warm man wrapped around the fencepost stabbed Pierre in the heart, as it always did. He swallowed the harsh memory of the limp body and the unforgettable and open eyes of a pilot, who, even in death, searched the sky for the enemy.
"Oh. Is it the man whose Zippo lighter you keep in the china cabinet?"
"Yes. That's the man we had the memorial for. You remember?"
"Why do we have war, Grandpa?" Pierre brushed the dirt from the boy's hand, hoisted him up, and held him. "That's enough for now, your mom will be worried. It's almost lunchtime."
Pierre knew his grandson would ask that same question again, only he didn't know the answer. Pierre was roughly the same age as his grandson when the war arrived on their doorstep and made victims of them all. Only he had been one of the lucky ones to survive, and the war ended in 1945 before he could be drafted. Instead, for fifty-some years, Pierre Behier dedicated his life to searching for the man who lived on in his memory. The man from Canada with a brass Zippo lighter engraved, Roseland. A name that changed the lives within their small community and also the name of the iconic sky fighter: the Roseland Spitfire.
Based on a true story. As a writer, I’m often moved by the small things in life. Moments that drift in and out of life. Discovering the thread of this story in Okotoks, on their Veteran’s Memorial Wall, inspired me to salute those who gave their all.
In honor and memory of WW2 Flight Lieutenant Arnold Walter Roseland of the 442 Squadron, who flew more than 65 sorties on Spitfires. A man who made a difference to the 22 French villagers (their families and future) whose lives were spared by Roseland's evasive flight maneuver.
The feelings of Pierre Behier, of Saint-Martin-de-Mailloc in Normandy, in this version of events, are based on creative speculation. The element that is true is that Pierre searched for Roseland for 50 some years based on a Zippo lighter and a Canada emblem torn off a uniform and a memory. Both men deserve to be honored.
www.vintagewings.ca for more WW2 heroes.
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This content was written by Monika R. Martyn. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Monika R. Martyn for details.