Sometimes to understand the present we have to examine the past. No one becomes a giant killer overnight.
After his war ended, Cyrus Kohler came home to a different world than most returning soldiers. When the Illinois Central began its long descent down the Alto Pass, deep in the Southern Illinois hills, Cyrus saw people standing near the rail line as it stretched through those solitary miles.
“Those people must have used a McGuire rig to get here,” thought Cyrus, knowing that for some of them it had been a long walk. Cyrus waved, and all along the rail line, in sporadic clusters, wherever they might be, people waved back. The whole trip was surreal. These were his people and would be as long as he breathed. They were blue collar or no collar. The train rounded a sharp bend and approached the cemetery where his old friend Red Kerley was buried. This final resting place for a few hundred rural folksoverlooked the rail line cut a couple ofhundred feet below. A small limestone cliff ran at a 45-degree angle away from the tracks sloping towards Route 51 which ran respectfully past its now silent guests.
Cyrus walked outside to stand on the caboose’s back porch.
Saluting, he murmured, “Rest in peace, old friend. One day we’ll all be with you, and that is a certainty. But you don’t have to save my place just yet.”
Cyrus saw no mass-produced flags as the train moved steadily southward, just arms in the air. Standing onthe small back platform of the caboose, Cyrus reflected on the politicians who had come before him. Unlike them, he had nothing to sell.
The train slowed as it prepared to stop in River City.
“Cyrus, Cyrus Kohler.” He heard his name and turned to see a small, elderly lady in a white dress, from flapper days by the look of it. She must have been at least in her eighties. They locked eyes, and as they did, she raised two fingers over her head and gave him the peace sign.
“Peace back,” Cyrus yelled over the engine noise, returning her greeting, his hand lifted to the sky. A small grove of pine trees came between them, and she was gone.
Time had decelerated on his big trip, as he liked to call it. Although unwilling, Cyrus had done his duty. The war was a national disaster whose portrait was so skewed, the lie so great, it betrayed America. The Age of Violence that began in the 18th century escalated into the 19th and fairly exploded into the 20th, gained traction as it chugged along under a full head of steam, welcoming home, in close procession, drugs, weapons, andmyriad other evils.
Cyrus thought back to the eulogy he had written for his fellow 1st Lieutenant Jim Wolfe, whom he had met in OCS. They called him “Coyote” because he was a taciturn, lonely sort of boy. Quiet. He had fallen in the house-to-house fighting around the Citadel in Hue.
Cyrus mouthed the words. “In our early years, with futures undecided, we traveled west. In that ancient land,we became friends for life. Now my friend is gone, passed on to the other side of that wide river which, living as it is, sets its course, leaving us behind, yearning for days now gone. Warriors, whose weapons are silent and will fire no more in this place, stand by the river and pay silent vigil to a soul who joins their gathering, swelling their ranks by one. May the angels greet this presence. We will meet again there, in that faraway place.”
Cyrus had sent his thoughts to Coyote’s widow, but she never responded. Maybe she hated him and the war. Perhaps the woman was tired of living. She must be tired of something. All that was past now, and he was home in one piece. It was time to find Susan Jackson.