He looked up at the apartment buildings along the street. Every time he walked home he noticed new service stars hanging in the windows. It seemed that a blue star hung in every apartment, sometimes with several stars on the same banner. When he passed a gold star, he felt a sinking feeling inside, and hoped that a sad face would not appear in the window. The loss and sorrow the families must feel was unimaginable.
As he rounded the corner, he bumped smack into a group of rowdy GIs.
“Hey! Why aren’t you in uniform?” one of them asked in a slurred voice.
Another one of them stuck his chest out and saluted Mason, causing the others to crumple into laughter. As they propped themselves against each other and moved on, Mason thought he heard them say something about a white feather.
He opened his mouth, about to defend himself. Then changed his mind. What’s the use? he thought. They obviously had been drinking, and for all he knew, they were shipping out tomorrow. He couldn’t blame them. He watched them stagger down the street, singing some song and laughing uproariously, already forgetting about him.
Mason shoved his hands in his pockets and continued on his way home, trying to ignore the feeling of guilt they had stirred. And yet the sting was there. He felt himself becoming all bad-tempered again, and began to defend himself to himself. He was helping where he could, wasn’t he? Purchasing War Bonds through his payroll deduction, filling in as air raid warden and spotter for the men in his building, helping out with his kids’ drives and collections, and most importantly, volunteering at the veterans’ hospital every Tuesday evening after work – writing letters for the soldiers, bringing them books or reading to them, listening to them, encouraging them.
He just about had himself convinced that he was doing enough, when he thought of some of the individual wounded men he had tended: Carlton, with no legs; Smitty, who jumped at the slightest sound; Big Al, who was struggling with Braille. He let out a deep sigh of inadequacy. It could never be enough. Nothing he could ever do would be enough. How could it be – when they lay there maimed, blind, disfigured, shattered inside? Their lives would never be the same.
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