'Thanks for playing, Uncle Bert," Joan said as we sat on the orange shag rug collecting the Boardwalk, Marvin Gardens and the play money we used to purchase them. "Tell us the story about the battle in Hanau," Debbie pleaded.
My big sisters were learning about World War II in junior high. Uncle Bert sat me on his knee, as our living room grew silent.
"It was March 22, 1945. The 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion was on the attack in Hanau."
"Is that near Hicksville?" I asked. "It's in Germany, silly," Debbie answered.
"Our battalion was beating the Germans, but the front line called for help. They were running out of gasoline. Sgt. Flannigan gathered the men at our camp and asked for a volunteer. Somebody had to drive a supply truck to the front line. There would be constant enemy fire. Nobody raised their hand, until I did."
"You're so brave." I draped my arm around his neck, my curls resting on his shoulder.
"I climbed the metal stairs and jumped into the truck. My knuckles turned white as I clasped the wheel. I said a prayer asking God to let me live, so I could get back home to my girl."
With his hands, voice and heart, Uncle Bert prepared a battle soup and boiled it before us. He stomped on the floor and the ground trembled. Flames and plumes of earth rose before us as his arms flew in the air and explosions launched from his mouth, recreating the mortar fire surrounding his truck.
We heard the thud as his teenage body jumped from the truck to deliver the precious cargo. I held my breath as he drove back through artillery fire and returned to the rear.
"What did the lieutenant say when he pinned the star on your lapel?" Joan asked.
"Technician Fifth Grade Cooper's untiring efforts and extreme devotion to duty reflect great credit upon himself, and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States."
"Wow," I said, in a slow soft whisper.
Uncle Bert returned home after VE day and asked his girl to marry him. His bride, Terri Dionne, was my mother's only sister, whose name was given to me.
A cabbie honked outside our Hicksville cape. Uncle Bert gave us all a hug, grabbed his coat and left for the train station.
He died a few years later. His sister called to me as I played in her yard after the funeral: "Uncle Bert wanted you to have this."
She handed me an old greeting-card box. Inside was a black case engraved with three gold-lettered words: "Bronze Star Medal."
Last night I sat on my son's bed, opened the fragile cardboard box, and told him the story of the battle in Hanau.
"Wow," he said, in a slow soft whisper.
Terri Manzione lives in Glen Head.