Pick a seat to survive WWII

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

It was in the middle of World War II. The European theater engulfed the small country of Hungary, the size of Indiana, but strategically located between the Nazi and Russian lines.

A young man 17 years of age was serving in the Hungarian military. His goal throughout the war was to stay alive. It didn’t matter which side occupied the country. The local soldiers were put on the front lines of the occupying forces. They died first.

The city was being shelled as the Russian forces were trying to remove the Nazis and take over what was to them vital real estate. The young soldier was used to it. The war had raged for several years.

He went home to visit his mother on the outskirts of the city one day. He invited a friend who had no other place to go. His mother was glad to see both soldiers. To disappear and never to be seen again was very common during the war.

She did not have a phone and could not communicate with her son. When she saw them walk into the yard is when she knew that he was still alive.

The two young men were sitting on the porch outside the little two-room apartment in the back of a large yard when a bomb exploded nearby. Both were struck by the shrapnel. One was hit in the neck and died instantly. The other was struck in the right shoulder and bled profusely.

The solder struck in the shoulder was my father. If he had decided to sit where his friend was, he would have been the one killed. It was a matter of luck who survived or died.

His mother (my grandmother) stopped the bleeding, but there were no antibiotics, or for that matter, any other medicines available. Soon, my father’s shoulder became infected by the shrapnel.

My grandmother then used an old natural remedy to help reduce the infection. My father was on the brink of death for several days. Chunks of the shrapnel could be extracted as my his immune system fought off the infection, and the swelling went down.

The wound healed, but several pieces of shrapnel remained in his shoulder.

He could not raise his right arm above his shoulder for that reason, but otherwise, he made a full recovery physically. Then, he met my mother, who also, by pure luck and her wit, made it through the war alive. They got married, and I came along.

There were no medals for my father, no ceremony, no extra pay for the wounds he suffered, no physical rehabilitation, no counseling.

His only reward was that he was able to survive the war. He was a teenager when it started and a wounded veteran when it ended.

He was one of the lucky ones. Many of his friends and fellow soldiers died.

I don’t remember much about my dad. I was not very close to him, and to be perfectly honest, the war took a toll on him psychologically. He was not a happy person, and his marriage failed when I was 10.

But I remember one day when he was sober, and we talked in the city park, where he took me for a walk. That’s where he told me the story of what happened to his shoulder. I remember it as if it happened yesterday.

Many years ago when I first visited Budapest as an adult, I went to that house, and sat on the porch where my father sat. I tried to imagine what happened on that day.

He died of a stroke several years before, and my grandmother died earlier. It was just me on the porch for a few seconds.

I did not imagine him sitting there with me, or taling to me, or doing anything else like putting his arms on my shoulder. It was a peaceful moment, though, that helped me understand how lucky we all are and how precious life really is.

Thank you, dad, for making it through WWII alive, no matter which side occupied your country. And, thank you especially for deciding that tragic day to sit on the left side of the bench instead of the right.