It’s early February. The dark, cold days are here, and I’m in the midst of the second semester of my senior year. They say this should be coasting one, but it hasn’t been. School has been rough. The classes are tough. I’m working small time jobs trying to keep up my beer money. The girl that I’m into doesn’t seem to ever pay me any mind to my existence. I need a break. I’m just trying to keep my head afloat.
I’m home from school for at least this weekend. Usually this is a nice occasion to get away from it all, but not this time. My grandfather had just passed away suddenly. Everyone I talked to seemed to be astonished that the man made it that far for whatever reason. I missed him. I missed my frequent phone calls that we had would share. The last words that I said to him still stuck out. It was a shitty joke about his upcoming cataract surgery.
“You going to be come home before graduation, yes?” His strong voice rasped through the phone.
“I’ll be home for spring break. My plans got changed. I know I’ll see you, but I’m not sure you will.”
“Very funny kid, your mother is wanting to talk to you.”
That conversation replayed in my head at least six times a day. And now I’m home for the funeral. It was time. We spent the day at the funeral. I had spent the days listening to old stories of my grandpa’s construction, to bridge welder, then rose to the head of engineering. Friends and former coworkers regaled me about stories of his youth, but one thing stuck out to me at the reception after the funeral. A kindly old lady that introduced herself as a friend of the family handed me a photograph
A single photograph of my grandfather in a Soviet Army uniform, medals adorning his chest.
That night I wandered over to my mom and asked her about it. Grandpa never liked to talk about his days in now Russia. She lead me up into the attic and showed me something. It was an exquisitely decorated solid oaken trunk, that was monogrammed with my Grandfather’s name, Sergei Olanenov, in gold leave.
“He built that himself you know. Built it after he came over…” She said as she opened it, trailing off, I started at the contents in silence. I examined them with my there were medals. There were other clothes. There was a single empty bottle of vodka. There was a helmet? Books. Mom pulled out a leather bound book from the chest. “Grandpa liked to keep a journal. He always did. I’m sure he’s got his entire life written in this chest…”
I gave my mom a hug as I felt her tears on my shoulder. I think she felt mine too.
A few days later, I came back to school, and after a particular rough day, I said in my apartment I sat moping, and out of a weird sense of curiosity, I opened one of the journals I had taken with me. Why? I don’t know. I opened the front cover. Grandpa had the years scrawled on the front. 1944-1945. A message written on the front cover simply read “If recovered please return to Pietr and/or Barta Olanenov and address. Grandpa would have been my age when wrote this. I randomly opened the leather-bound, yellowed pages, and started reading.
“It’s evening. We were sent to scout possible fording locations from the armored company as we push deeper into the German Homeland. All the shit we have experienced up to now is paying off. Major Brochev is happy. He say we’ll be home soon. Armies are heading to that shit stain of city Berlin. Hopefully those savages in the armored companies and infantry companies are going to unleash hell twice for what they did to our homes.
We came across a village, that was completely abandoned save for a pig, a few chickens, and a dog. We will eat well tonight! Ivan the Chef is slow roasting it as I write this. We purposely keep Ivan the Chef back from combat. He is good cook. Major Brochev has never forgiven himself getting the last good cook killed. And the cat seemed to take a liking to us. We have a mascot now! We pushed through the village, finding nothing. We followed the river, where we found abandoned fortifications. It gave us quite the scare. We fired a few rounds of rockets into it, and then sent Ivan the Lucky in. Again. Ivan still stands. It was empty. We couldn’t find anywhere shallow enough for the T-34s. Although, if they could they’d drive across the river and not stop till Berlin was dust. We split into teams. I went was with the Major.
That sun was up and it was a tad warm. We thought we found a spot where we could cross, when bullets rains upon us. The fucking Krauts knew this spot was shallow. We lost a man in the initial burst, and another was wounded. I watched about bullet graze the ground centimeters from Lucky. We were under attacked. German machine Gun emplacement encased in concrete. The bastards had made it low and buried to hide itself in the muck of the river bank. Movement would have been key, but I was wearing the armor…”
Armor? I thought a quick google search revealed that Red Army Assault Sappers. Wait according to this grandpa was a badass… were handed steel plates to serve as bullet and shrapnel protection.
“… and was stuck, I waited. There was a loud blast, quickly followed by another. The Faustniks…
Google “Soviet soldiers that used stolen or claimed panzerfausts another google bazookas.”
“…had arrived. There was plum of smoke and dust. A third blast followed, then the major bellowed to attack. Before going in, I turned back to Lucky, who mouthed no grenades, but still when into his satchel. Lucky handed me a special bottle with a smile. I had time to light it. I ran towards the bunker, The gunfire had ceased, and there was no movement, but we cant be sure. I ran and ran and threw the bottle into the open gunslot, not one of the new exits that the bunker had been granted.
I heard the crack and heard the fire. Lucky threw his bottle in, and another soldier, I don’t remember who, threw a grenade in. There was another explosion. We waited. Major Brochev gave us the signal to go in. We sent the Farmer in. He came out unscathed…”
What the fuck. This kindly old man that would always give me the kindest advance was a sapper? I didn’t even know what that was. He was hardass? What?