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Emma’s Song — A Story of Love, Part 3

July 20, 2016
BY CHUCK CLEGG - Columnist , Wetzel Chronicle

Emma Nobel was devastated by the news of Paul being listed as missing in action, and Paul's mother could not believe for the second time in her life, someone she loved had gone missing, with no answers as to why or where they may be. She prayed for answers. However, sometimes there are no answers to life's biggest questions.

Emma, a few weeks later, made a trip to Washington City to try and find answers from the army. Unfortunately, they could not tell her any more information than that Paul went missing near the town of Balaston in the early days of the war for America. One junior officer told her off the record, "Thousands of men are missing. The conditions on the battlefields are so terrible whole squads of men are unaccounted for."

After Emma tried the army, she went to her congressman -a great barrel-bellied of a man who could talk for an hour and say very little of meaning. In the end he said he would see what he could do, but promised nothing. Emma, at least, felt the army was sincere in their talking with her. The politicians were full of empty speeches and hollow words. She wondered how these men could be in charge of a government who sent men to war with no real answers for those who lost loved ones.

Emma finally went to the Red Cross. Perhaps they had some way of knowing the whereabouts of men sent to hospitals or prison camps. The people there helped her look through mounds of war reports with the names of those missing or wounded. She spent a week looking over battlefield accounts of soldiers accountability. Paul's name, and that early battle, were not even listed. They told her that this was not surprising. Small skirmishes between a few soldiers were not classified as battles. Often no record was filed of the battle and the men lost. She told them the name of the town the army had given her, but still, no record existed of that fire fight. They showed her prisoner reports. They were sketchy at best. Some prisons reported men they held, while others did not. They said there was no record of men who **

Emma returned home devastated by the lack of answers. For the next year she and Paul's mother wrote letters to everyone that may know something of Paul. They sent letters to churches in France, hospitals, and prisons. They even sent letters to cemeteries in the small town near where Paul disappeared. But no answers or hope ever came.

Then in November the news came: the war was over, and troops were coming home. The news gave no hope to Emma, knowing Paul would not be among those men returning. Somehow the war's end made the loss seem final and hopeless.

**

A few weeks passed and Christmas was now only a couple days away. The house was dark, no decorated tree and no wreath of holly hung on the door. Snow had fallen two days before, and still it lay on the front steps. Emma and Beth chose not to celebrate the holiday that year. Young Paul was still too young to know of the holidays passing and no visit from St. Nick.

They sat at the kitchen table eating and not talking, when at the door came a knock. "Now, who could that be at this time of night? I hope it isn't Christmas carolers; I just don't want to hear Joy to the World tonight", Beth said.

Emma got up from the table and moved toward the door. She pulled back the curtains to see who was knocking. At first she was shocked - it was a man in uniform. Her mind rushed in the darken light of the porch - could it be Paul? As she opened the door, the room's light revealed the man's face. He was older, with a face much weather worn, U=It was not her husband. The man also walked with a cane. She opened the door, "Yes, may I help you?" The man removed his hat and said, "Ma'am, are you Emma Nobel?" She hesitated before answering, "Yes, that's me, do you know my husband, Paul Nobel?" The man shook his head that he did.

Emma welcomed the man into the living room and offered him a warm drink. Both Emma and Beth were eager to find out why this man had come to their door, and if he knew the whereabouts of Paul. He explained the circumstances at the school and the fighting. As he finished, he handed Emma the note he carried since that night. It was dirty and yellowed. Emma clutched the note tightly in her hand as she disappeared into the kitchen. A few moments passed before she gathered the courage to open Paul's note.

After a few minutes, Beth joined Emma as she read the note over several times. Beth placed her hand on Emma's shoulder, "What does he say?" Emma handed the note to Beth. It was a short note written on a piece of scrap paper. It looked as if it had been written on a soft surface and not a hard table. The letters were more scribbles than neatly written, but Emma knew the conditions under which the note had been written were difficult.

Those few words told Emma that Paul loved her and hoped to someday see their child. He told her he was fearful of his fate that night, but he was going to try and save his men and come home to her. He closed with, "All My Love, Paul. P.S. Tell mother I love her."

After a while the old sergeant came into the room and told the ladies he needed to be going, that it was late and he needed to find a place to stay. He hoped the note gave them some answers. The two ladies wiped their eyes of tears and quickly apologized for their leaving him. He told them no apology was necessary.

Emma insisted the man stay the night, and tomorrow they would fix him an early Christmas dinner. His being there gave them some answers they had long looked for. Tomorrow he could enjoy a homecooked meal and tell them about himself and his family.

The next day came, and for the first time in months there was a bit of laughter in the house. The old sergeant told how he and Paul worked to get a couple dozen green soldiers ready to fight. He made it seem like they enjoyed the task. Emma realized it must have been difficult for them to train scared young men, and turn them into soldiers. They talked through the day, but never dwelled on the night of the fighting and what must have happened in that faraway school house. It was clear the sergeant had told them all he knew.

The next morning the sergeant thanked them for their kindness and hospitality, but said he must leave to catch his train. Before he left, he told Emma of hospitals that treated injured men who could not communicate for many reasons. Perhaps, just perhaps, Paul may be there in one of those places. He cautioned Emma to not get her hopes too high of Paul's being there. She thanked him and told him she would have to try and find her husband, no matter where the search took her. The not knowing if he was still out there would not let her, or his mother, have peace of mind until they knew.

 
 
 

 

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