By Sean Dempsey, 06/09/23
Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant land of Uzhok, Ukraine, deep in the Carpathian mountain range, there lived a courageous father named Ivan and his 16 year old son, Roman.
They lived alone, just the two of them, as the boy’s mother had died when Roman was very young. They were not just father and son; they were best friends and confidants. Each was all the other had in the world.
One day there began a brutal war.
Roman begged and pleaded with his father not to enlist. “Please don’t sign up for a senseless war we cannot possibly win!”
But his father insisted on behalf of his national pride and to protect his son. “I go and fight for YOU, my beautiful boy. You’re the reason I must leave. Not for myself, but to protect you!”
For more than a year, Ivan served in a faraway war-ravaged town, fighting in a seemingly endless war. His son would write him almost every day, but only a small fraction of his letters would arrive.
The last note Ivan received from his boy went as so:
I love and miss you. How I despise war, and this cruel war most of all. It has stolen comfort from my soul just as it has kept me from your company. Please come home. Please, father. Do not be part of this travesty anymore. Do you not see our entire country is but a mere pawn in a global game of chess between two titans? Come home.
Most fondly and with love,
Ivan read his words and his heart yearned to return home. But his place was here fighting. He owed it to his country; As a father, it was his responsibility to shield his son from every possible harm! He would fight to protect his boy! His son must wait…
Months passed. One day a great battle took place. Many died and many more were gravely wounded. But fate, it seemed, smiled on Ivan. Following the battle, several members of his regiment were permitted to return home! An honorable dismissal from service was specially granted to Ivan due to “brave and incredible acts of valor upon the battlefield.”
You see, Ivan had single-handedly led his division up a steep embankment in order to take a strategic position and secure victory for multiple battalions. He saved the lives of thousands of men that day. And in return his commanders were sending him home!
He felt giddy. His soul was teeming with joy as he started on the path for Uzhok. He would see his young son again! His feet would bring him there…
After 3 weeks of traveling, Ivan’s weary boots touched the soil of his small property in the mountains; his heart raced with excitement. He had envisioned this moment countless times during his absence. The mere thought of embracing his son and hearing his voice brought a bittersweet smile to his face. He stealthily made his way through the familiar goat paths, hoping to surprise Roman…
But returning to his house and stepping inside, he called out with joy — but found no one there. The house was empty!
Ivan searched his property. He could find his son nowhere. He called again and again for him. No rejoinder was received.
For hours Ivan looked for Roman to no avail. Finally, he resolved himself to go into the townsquare many kilometers away and seek answers.
Ivan arrived in town and sought out the post-master—as he knew his son must be frequently providing letters to him like those he received on the battlefront.
“Where is Roman?” Ivan asked after he had entered the Ukrposhta and located the postman. His voice was filled with excitement and concern.
An awkward silence filled the room before the timid man spoke up. “Your son, sir? Roman, sir … well, he left to join the army as soon as he was able. He wanted to find you, sir! To rescue you…”
Henry’s joyous smile faded, replaced by a mix of emotions. He was overwhelmed with pride for his son’s determination, yet devastated that their paths had crossed like blind battleships in the night. He had returned home only to find an empty void where his son’s presence should have been.
“Sir, if you will, sir. I actually have a piece of mail. A piece for you, sir! It arrived just this morning, and I found it odd at once. Since … well, see, sir, it’s addressed to you…”
The postman fumbled in his bag for a bit and brought forth a letter. Barely able to breathe, Ivan took the paper from him and opened it. He read:
Please excuse my brashness, as you do not know me. I’m Andriy. I serve with your son. A brave lad. And a shrewd one. He always can tell when a man is lying to him, no matter what, make no mistake! I know, haha, because I lie a lot and he always calls me on it. He’s the honest one. Never told a lie in his life, Roman!
Anyway, he asked me to write you this letter just now. He’s resting peacefully or he’d do it himself. As you probably know by now, he left home to find you. He’s on a mission, you see. To bring you home from “this travesty of a war,” as he calls it anyway. Me and him, we have been fighting long battle after battle—and he’s pressed on, hoping to catch a glimpse of his ‘Brave Father’s’ face amongst the sea of other soldiers and rescue him.
Roman overheard your name the other day in the mess hall and learned you’re now a real hero! He upped and ran right to his Maister-Serzhant and begged to be shipped up and sent exactly where his brave Papa is. (Your name is spoken of a lot around here, you know? It’s really an honor to write you, sir.) Anyway, to get back to it … well, days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, but there was no sign of you. But ol’ R’man and me…we just went where the fighting was hardest and he was sure that‘s where you’d be!
That was up until yesterday. See, well… here’s the thing, sir. I told you from the beginning I’m a bit of a liar, and it’s true. I don’t mean anything by it; I just lie for no good reason when I’m nervous.
The truth … well the truth is I met your son just this week. I never fought no battles with him. And he never told me to write you. Well, not directly that is. He told me the story of his battles and his quest to come save you (not that you need saving, mind you). He was talking about you, going on and on. But after mealtime we got on the move and he drew the short stick.
Cresting a hill, he caught a bullet to the head. I doubt he even knew he was dead as he hit the ground. I swear, sir, I swear that much – he didn’t feel a thing … I’m sure of it! And I’m as sure of this — being a war hero and all, you’ll be so pleased to know that your name was the last on his lips when he died. As God is my witness! I know this because I was there. (Bullet almost had MY name on it). But I swear on my mother and her mother before her. I remember it clearly – the final thing your son said to me before he stopped talking forever was:
“And you’ll see, Andriy! You’ll see wherever the fighting is hottest I’ll find Papa, and then I’ll bring him home!”