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Forgotten soldiers of a forgotten war

My grandfather was a soldier. He fought in World War I, was wounded and was left with the dead in a field hospital.

He had taken some serious shrapnel in his leg and the doctors told him they would have to amputate.

My grandfather said that he would not accept that fate. One kind and nameless Army surgeon stashed him in the morgue, where he was treated on the side.

My grandfather was a soldier. He was proud of his service and often stood at attention to the full extent of his 5 feet, 7 inches when I visited his small urban apartment in New York.

He marched in ranks and shot from the trenches in his living room. His apartment became a parade field and a battlefield, where the manual of arms was executed and combat stories were told, retold, and his wife said, “Shhhh, John, no one wants to hear about that.”

My grandfather was a soldier. When the war ended, he took a boat from Europe to New York where he reunited with his childhood sweetheart, like thousands of other vets, and he married her.

He worked with his hands at the Otis Elevator Company and, when he retired, they gave him a gold watch. I now have that watch and his old meerschaum pipe.

He used to smoke that pipe on special occasions, like when I visited him and he told me stories about the war, and showed me the shrapnel still in his leg.

My grandfather smelled of tobacco and his wife would make him go outside to smoke cigars on the stoop. I would sit with him out there and listen to what had happened on some far-off field of honor – and horror.

My grandfather was a soldier. He did his duty to God and country.

He served with distinction and was awarded a medal. I had an old photograph of him in an Army hospital.

His hair was dark brown then, but you could see him clearly wearing a white gown in a large group – all of the young men with medals pinned to their chests.

My grandfather was a soldier from August 1914 to November 1918. Forty years later, when he marched around his living room and performed the manual of arms, he shouted: “Eins, zwei, drei, vier.”

He was so proud that he could remember his drill after so many years of serving in the Magyar Honvédség.

He had served his king and his emperor – as had every young man from his small village of Bodrogszentes in what was then the Kingdom of Hungary within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Of the eight million men mobilized in Hungary, one million died during the war. After the war, the peace gave that part of the kingdom to the new nation of Czechoslovakia.

My grandfather was a soldier. He legally immigrated to the United States in 1921 and, from the records at Ellis Island, he had $8 to his name when he landed.

After the war, my grandfather became an American citizen and voted in every election.

My grandfather was a soldier. When he passed, there was no caisson, no flag-draped casket and no salutes with rifles or by hand.

No one passed the flag to his widow and thanked him for his service to his country. Just a simple burial with a simple stone in a private grave under the shadow of a tall old elm tree – a silent witness to the passing of another forgotten soldier of a now-forgotten war.

He was a soldier who gave all that he could for his country when his country asked.

My grandfather was a soldier. I will always remember his stories and how proud he was marching in the living room, “Eins, zwei, drei, vier.”

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