All we can know for sure is that these men met twice during their long lives. So I make up a story about them.
The first time they met was by chance. They had chosen to join an Army, and under the orders of various commanders, they marched and fought. Hunger and hardship dulled their thinking, until they moved from one battle to the next like sleepwalkers, no longer caring where they were.
On a hot July day, they found themselves on opposite sides of a battleground in a little town called Gettysburg. They were just two men in an overheated, seething mass of over 160,000. They were tired and hungry, but they were also healthy and young. Fighting, even on an empty stomach, held a certain zeal for them.
They were lucky enough to survive this bloody battle – though 50,000 other healthy young men men did not.
They met again in Gettysburg, this time in 1913 and by appointment.
It was the 50th anniversary of the great battle, the very place that inspired Abraham Lincoln to write the Gettysburg Address and where he delivered its immortal lines in just two minutes.
Had they managed to forget the place, the heat, landscape, and Civil War uniforms would have brought it all back in vivid detail. Only the men themselves were different. It would be interesting to know what these old men were thinking as they stood on the ‘hallowed’ grounds.
Did they imagine the ghosts of their brothers, cousins, and boyhood friends – the ones who had never left Gettysburg – were present, watching them? Their ghosts may have looked at these older men through reproachful, or even accusing eyes. Hate, like youth and health, burns itself out. But the phantom soldiers had never grown old and could not understand the betrayal.
Maybe the veterans weren’t troubled by restless spirits. Perhaps it was the future that was on their minds that afternoon. The drums of war had been pounding for some time now, had anyone been listening. Perhaps the veterans did hear that unmistakeable sound bearing down on them, from all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.
Or perhaps the intervening 50 years made them wiser, allowing them to remember what was good in the past, to not borrow trouble from the future, and to enjoy an afternoon with a new old friend.