Shrapnel. It was just a chunk of shrapnel, about the size of a tennis ball, twisted and ugly. It still bore the stains of his blood, they had faded to a dark brown color, and the scent had completely faded. She kept it, for all these years, she had kept it. No, not as a souvenir, it was never that, it more served as a reminder of what she had witnessed that day over sixty years ago. Every year on this day, she would take it out and look at it, smiling, replaying every scene that she could remember, every word that he said to her, what he looked like, and the cadence of his voice. She, of course, never spoke of what she had witnessed, never to her husband, never to her children or grandchildren for that matter, because she promised she wouldn't.
She was one of the first women to land in Normandy on D-Day, a nurse of the 48th Surgical Hospital. It was horrifying when they got there. They were told to grab hold of the bodies floating in the surf and use them as protection from German snipers and the artillery fire from the Pointe et Raz de la Percée. Several of her fellow nurses did not make it through the waters onto the beach, but she did not think of that while she worked. She had a job to do.
When they brought his body in, things were at their worst. Stretchers occupied every available space, the wounded lay next to the dead, and no one had slept for several days. She wasn't sure why they even brought him in, he obviously was going to die, his body, or what was left of it, resembled the meat her mother made sausages out of. His heart continued to beat; she didn't have time to try to understand how. She said a prayer, like she always did, and then covered him with a blanket and moved on; there were too many wounded soldiers there that needed her.
It was two days and a brief nap later when she noticed he was still there on the ground, still covered, but the blanket was no longer army issue green, too much blood had soaked into it. She sighed to herself, this poor soul, he has a mother back home who would wonder what had ever happened to her baby, so the nurse decided to see if he still might have his dog tags on.
When she threw back that blanket, she got the shock of her life. This man was whole! Or nearly so. There were piles of shrapnel on both sides of him, along with so many bullets that she could not even guess the number. He still had large gaping holes in his body but they looked as if they were drawing close by themselves. He was breathing, it was not labored either, it was a regular breathing, as if he was simply sleeping.
She decided right then and there, that no one was going to know about this, this was too wondrous, and sometimes things this wonderful can find a way of becoming ugly. She quickly covered him back up, and slowly dragged him, behind some supplies, and then she waited. Over the next few hours, while her superior officer thought she was sleeping, she watched. More metal was pushed out of his body, along with bullets; the flesh mended itself before her eyes. She found herself weeping; this had more of an effect on her than the horrors that she had witnessed these last few days. She actually nodded off for a while, her body needed to heal as well. When she finally awoke, after what could not have been more than an hour's sleep, the last wound was closing. The man moaned softly and his eyes fluttered open, he sniffed the air and turned his head towards her.
She quickly found a canteen nearby and held it to his lips as he drank deeply. Her mind was racing with questions but she held her tongue. What was left of his uniform top fell off as the man sat up.
"Where am I?"
She swallowed and took a deep breath before answering. He nodded his head, closed his eyes for a moment before asking another question.
"What is your name?"
"Kathryn Sinclair. What's yours?"
He cocked his head at her; looked down at what was printed on his uniform: JONES- he knew instinctively that was not really his name. He tried to remember, but there was only a blur in that part of his memory. How could something so simple such as your name be so damn elusive?
"Can ya get me a uniform?" he asked softly, thought for a moment, and then added, "and it's better that ya don't know my name."
She glanced around, stood up, made sure no one was looking their way and then took one from a shelf, thinking it just might fit. She turned her back while he got dressed, and then led him outside.
"I have to leave, Kathryn, but I need ya to do something for me."
"What is it?"
"Don't tell anyone what ya saw, I think ya know what would happen if ya did."
"I won't, I promise."
He took a deep breath, and smiled sadly and said, "One day I would like to see France when there is no war going on."
"Yeah, me too."
"Last time I was here, there were a hellava lot more trenches though."
People were beginning to give them curious looks, so she thought if he was going to go, this was the time to do so. She smiled warmly at him, reached out, grasped his hand in hers and said, "Good bye."
"Good bye, Kathryn."
With that, he walked away; her eyes followed him until he disappeared over a small hill. She turned around and went back into the tent, over to that stretcher, and gathered and discarded all evidence of his existence, minus one.