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  • “Crazy Joe” Devlin was a war hero, but to neighborhood kids like me, he was free entertainment. If wisdom was mine back then at thirteen years old, I would’ve praised Joe, thanked him for his military sacrifices at Normandy Beach. Certainly I would not have been party to the verbal abuse we heaped on shell-shocked Joe just for laughs.

    One late July afternoon Johnny Reichling lit a firecracker and tossed it in the air. Two things simultaneously happened: (1) “Crazy Joe” dove into Mrs. Minogue’s hedges; and (2) my father was walking towards me on his way back from work at the bakery.

    “Follow me,” Papa ordered. He yanked my arm. I followed.

    “What’re you doing?” he asked, his dark-brown eyes squinting in anger. “That man got hurt bad in Europe, protecting our freedom over here. And you treat him that way? Make a fool of him and of me too?”

    Papa grounded me for a week. He made me write an apology letter to give Devlin.

    “Back up this letter by respecting Joe from now on,” Papa said. “Your friends. Let them be stupid, but you’re my son.”

    When my one-week “house arrest” ended, I sought out Joe Devlin and handed him my letter. Basically, it said I was sorry, that I would never be cruel again.

    Joe read the letter. I watched his eyes dart from line to line, his hands tremble. Then Joe said, “Sir, half my men died on the beach. The wounded need a medic quick. I’ll take that gunner out myself.”

    He shoved my letter into his shirt pocket and saluted me. He stood at attention, waiting. Hardly breathing or blinking. Finally I saluted back. The war hero nodded.


    “War Hero” is one of 167 short-short stories in my collection Flashing My Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press and available at in book and Kindle editions.
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