The Walk

The problem is, I don’t know what to call it. Except that’s not the only problem.

I started it ten years ago. And five years ago. And two years ago and again last year, this year, as it’s not quite the end of this one, but there’s a thing I do at the end of the year that I’ve done for a long time now. I drive to a field where once there were 3,500 people, every one of them younger than I am now, some of them a third my age and younger.

I get out of my car and read their names off the stones that record them. Sometimes it’s been in this thin winter daylight, more often I only remember at the last moment and the field is in the wrong direction and it’s Christmas and there’s stuff to do and anywya, usually it’s raining.

Lt. Col Joseph Elmer. Shea.

I go to this field anyway and read their names out loud. So that they aren’t forgotten at the side of this road that used to be their perimeter track, that ran around the ends of the three runways that used to be here. It takes a while to read the eighty-two names written on these stones and get the names right, most of them Anglo, but a lot of them Hispanic, a few more of them German, here on these stones at the edge of an American airfield, in the rain, somewhere in Suffolk.

So maybe this year will be the year I finally write it, if I can, and tell the story of how the eighty-third name, the one not written on these stones, the one I have to add now because he went to join the others gone before, missed his transport back from a dance and had to walk back to base, all twenty-two miles from Ipswich, along roads that don’t exist now, past houses that didn’t exist then. Tracing the route has been difficult, not least as maps back then didn’t show airfields, and didn’t for a long time after the war. I think I know the way now. I’ve walked half of it, albeit in two stages, Ipswich to Woodbridge, then later, Woodbridge to Glemham the old way, through Melton and Wickham Market, the way the road ran then. Maybe this year. Because I said I would.

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