HISTORY

HISTORY

From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

History

Lester Peskin is eighty-three, tall and fit. He wears his white hair combed back, and he has sharp eyes and a quick wit. Not long ago, after fifty years of practicing restaurant law in New York, he moved to Boca Raton, Florida. That was two years after Dorothy, his wife of almost fifty years, had died. His two daughters and four grandchildren still live up north.

Lester is alone but not lonely. He golfs and takes classes in the history of Judaism and the Old Testament. He even had a second bar mitzvah last year—he is, after all, thirteen years beyond the Bible’s three score and ten.

Lester was young once and believed he would die young, as a lieutenant, a company commander in the 108th Regiment, Fortieth Division. He believed he’d die in the invasion of Japan scheduled for the fall of 1945.

But Lester came home whole, married Dorothy and settled down to law and family.

A couple of months ago, a large Japanese battle flag showed up at Grand Armée, a unique military memorabilia store near Lester’s Florida home.

The flag had been taken at a Japanese surrender ceremony in late August 1945 in Korea. It was signed by more than one hundred U.S. soldiers. It went home with a GI, then to his attic, then to his nephew’s attic after the old soldier died. The nephew contacted Grand Armée and the transaction was made.

Soon after the flag arrived at Grand Armée, Lester and one of his daughters wandered in. They browsed. Lester noticed the flag and stood gazing at it.

Later he told his daughter he’d had the thought, I signed a flag like that once. But he supposed that a lot of Japanese flags were signed by a lot of U.S. soldiers.

His daughter studied the flag, too. Then looked up.

“Daddy,” she said excitedly. “Look, there’s your name.”

And there it was, in the lower left corner of the flag: “Lt. Peskin, New York.”

Waves of emotion capped by churning memories washed over the old soldier. He had lived an entire life between the day he’d signed that flag and the day he’d seen it again. Fifty-four years. So much time, gone so fast. When he could speak again, he told his daughter the story of that day in 1945.

Lester was more than just a signatory to the flag. He had been the commanding officer, the guy who’d taken the flag from a Japanese marine captain in a formal surrender ceremony at a small airbase at Pohang, on the east coast of Korea.

The Japanese captain outranked him and said he wouldn’t surrender to Lester. Each man had his men behind him, watching, wary. Armed.

“You’re gonna surrender,” Lester told him. The translators went back and forth. The American didn’t know who was saying what. For a long moment, the captain and Lester looked at each other. The captain surrendered.

The men of Lester’s company signed the flag. Lester gave it to one of his men.

After the surrender, Peskin was promoted to captain and appointed military governor of the region. Six months later, he went home. He never again thought about the flag.

The war receded into a past Lester didn’t want to visit. Later when his daughters begged him to tell them stories about the war, he left out the parts that would upset them. He knows his twenty-four-year-old grandson doesn’t know much about the war, since nowadays they don’t teach it in school.

That day in Grand Armée, Lester looked at the flag, worn, fading to yellow, framed under glass. Those guys on the flag? Most were probably dead. Their names, scribbled in pen and pencil, were still visible. But they, too, were fading away.

“It was a good outfit. They were good guys,” he said quietly.

The war, that day in Korea, had become very real again, if only for a few minutes.

The moment passed. Lester took one last look at the flag and left, heading to his Old Testament class.

The flag had brought back the war for Lester, but for his children, it had made the war real for the first time. They knew now that Lester had been through things they had only read about or seen in films. It was time to honor their father and grandfather.

A few weeks later, a package arrived for Lester. It was the old battle flag, bought by his family. A surprise. Soon, his grandson plans to visit, to hear the story of the flag— and the history it represents—in person from a man who was there.

Paul F. Reid

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