I never even knew his name though he lived just around the corner from my home. He was never a real man with a name and personality to me though I saw him often. Many times as I passed his house on my way to school, I would see him sitting on his porch in the sun. He was always wrapped in blankets. And he was always coughing.
The children in the neighborhood were afraid of him. We believed that he had TB, the only explanation that made sense to our childish minds. Therefore he was a danger to us, and I avoided him.
Year after year he sat on the porch, never speaking, his coughing more frequent and deeper.
One morning as I walked to school, some of my friends were waiting at the school crossing with exciting news. The man from the porch had shot himself to death at the edge of a little creek just a few feet away. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go to there, but allowed myself to be pulled toward the death scene. Sure enough, there was a new blood stain on the pavement just next to the brook.
In the days that followed, the true story of my dead neighbor emerged. He hadn't suffered from TB at all. He had been gassed in World War I. Though many years had passed between the time he had been so severely damaged in the war and the moment when he escaped from his torment, he was as surely killed in the war as his comrades who died on the battlefields of France.
I was greatly ashamed of myself for my actions. Though I was a very shy child, I knew I could have stopped to wish him a "good morning," or perhaps have walked up to the porch to comment on the sunny weather. I have no idea whether or not he would have responded, but I have always known I should have tried. It was only later that I began to wonder why the adults in the neighborhood hadn't told the children about his sacrifice, and encouraged the new generation to properly honor a fallen hero.
Perhaps I'm the only one now who remembers my unknown soldier. He always appears in my thoughts when issues of war and peace are discussed anywhere. I wonder what he might have become, would he have married and had children of his own? There is no way to answer these questions. But his life and death are explained in my favorite comment on war, whose author I do not know. But it defines the tragedy of all wars in a way no other words could do. "It tears the fabric of the future."