Hannah stood at the train station, her arms wrapped tightly around her husband Friedrich’s waist. Her tears darkened the olive-drab of his uniform shirt, and she worried that he’d be embarrassed, but as she tried to move her head away he pulled her closer, one hand on the back of her head, pressing her wet cheek gently against his chest.
“I’m getting you all wet,” she said with a slight laugh, trying to lighten the mood.
“It’s alright, Hannah.”
He was twenty. She was still only nineteen, but they’d married young. They had grown up together, and she had known since she was six that he was the only man she could ever love. A year his junior but full of determination, she had chosen him and his best friend Paul as her childhood companions over all the girls in the neighborhood. His adventurous spirit, spontaneity and passion had won her heart early, even though it had frustrated his parents, who Friedrich had always said clung a little too tightly to the German desire for ordnung.
At barely eight, he had known he wanted to be a man of God. As soon as he was eligible, he had begun training for the ministry. He also kept a job at a warehouse, loading and unloading goods, and in his off hours he studied and met with any young men that he could to study the Bible and pray.
As busy as he was, Hannah never once felt neglected. He was faithfully with her every moment he could be, and often young men flooded their tiny apartment. She loved cooking for them, cleaning up after them, and praying with him for the men he cared so much about. She knew Friedrich’s calling, and she was honored to stand with him in it. He made sure she was cared for, and he was affectionate and attentive in the ways he knew she needed him to be. They were perfectly matched in every way.
The day they said their wedding vows, the war had already been raging for almost two years in Europe. They felt the burden of their German heritage, some of their relatives vehemently opposing the actions of Germany and its allies, others in vocal support, and some quietly holding their peace.
Hannah knew Friedrich had cousins back in Europe fighting with the German Imperial Army. He loved his heritage as much as anyone in the community but he was also a generation removed from the Fatherland. His home was America, and he’d been filled with enthusiasm as the first doughboys assembled in the streets of their small city in Upstate New York. There’d been no conflict for him when he’d filled out his draft card, except that of leaving his wife and his ministry. Still, he relished the idea of fighting for freedom shoulder to shoulder with other men.
She released him, running her hands down his arms, her finger tips brushing against the rank insignia that already identified him as a corporal. He was a natural-born leader, and a sharpshooter, having already claimed the title at more than one trap-shooting championship at Schuetzen Park. She hated to lose him, even for a day, but she knew that there were young men out there that needed him.
“My Friedrich,” she said, tears still wetting her deep brown eyes. She had always loved the way his name came off her tongue. “Please come back to me.”
He pulled her close again, knowing he needed to pray with her one last time. “Dear Lord Jesus,” he said, “please watch between Hannah and I as we are apart from one another. Please provide for her while I am away, and help bide her time so that she does not fall into despair. I pray that by Your mercy I will return to her, sooner than expected. In Your name, Lord Jesus, Amen.”
Paul Strauss appeared, six inches shorter than Friedrich, stocky and blonde haired. “Last call, comrade,” he said. “The train is leaving.”
How had she missed the sound of the horn?
Friedrich replaced his campaign hat and shouldered his haversack. He took a step back and she gazed at him, allowing the image of him to burn indelibly onto her mind. She was afraid of what every wife and mother feared, and she knew that even though he hadn’t expressed it, he was more afraid than she was that he would never return. In his fear, he had only kept reassuring her over and over during his few days of leave that they would be together again.
With a sharp salute and his handsome smile, he turned on his heel and walked briskly alongside Paul toward the train. Men were already hanging out the windows, kissing and embracing their loves, and she didn’t dare try to elbow her way into the mass of teary-eyed women. He had barely mounted the top step of the train as it began to pull away, and turned one more time to wave goodbye. She reached her hand out, wishing that somehow she could stop the train with that simple motion.
“I love you,” he called as the train pulled away, “I will see you again, my dearest.”