(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him.)
The next morning was Sunday, and all three of the Horn men—as Herman was considering himself quite a grown up little man by now—were out in the barn attending various chores. Since mama died they had not been able to make it to church. Papa always said he believed in God, but he didn’t believe in those holier-than-thou folks down at the church. At least that’s what he said to Tad in their evening discussions. Tad would reply by saying something silly like going to church was for sissies. That was when Herman would stop his eavesdropping and go to sleep.
As for Herman, he was very troubled. He wanted to believe there was a God, but he couldn’t believe in the same God the folks in the church down the road believed in. They believed in a God that hated anyone who wasn’t like them. Their God liked to hear hymns sung to him on Sunday but seemed to turn a deaf ear to pleas for help during the week.
“Horn! Horn!” their neighbor Mr. Cochran screamed as he drove up in his pickup. “Have you heard the news?”
Papa stopped what he was doing and stepped out of the barn door. Tad and Herman were right behind him. “What are you yelling about, Cochran?”
“It’s the Japs! They’ve bombed Hawaii! Someplace called Pearl Harbor!”
“I told you those Japs were going to pull something,” Tad said, spitting on the ground.
“Hush, Tad,” papa ordered, walking toward the pickup. “How bad is it?”
“Sunk several of our ships,” Cochran replied, more calm now, but very grim. “Lost a lot of our boys. The president’s on the radio right now. It’s war.”
The pit of Herman’s stomach turned hot and sour. He couldn’t believe anyone would stage a sneak attack like that. He hated to think that Tad, who never had a good word about anybody it seemed, was right about the Japanese. Most of all, it scared him about how this was going to change life again, which he thought had changed enough in the last few years.
“Herman, you finish up the chores,” papa said. “Tad and I are going into town with Cochran to get the latest on this thing.”
Once again Herman was left on the outside but he was used to it. He finished feeding the chickens and slopping the hogs. He moved the bales of hay around as much as he could, but he wasn’t as strong as papa whose job that usually was. He fixed lunch but ate by himself as papa and Tad didn’t return. Herman spent the afternoon talking to Burly about the Japanese and what would happen next. Finally he dozed off in the late afternoon and didn’t wake up until Tad and papa came through the door. Herman looked over the edge of the loft. Papa sat in his chair and Tad took his place across from him at the dining table.
“Son, are you sure you want to do this?”
Before he answered Tad looked up at the loft. “You might as well come down, Herman,” he said a little bit disdainfully. “This is going to concern you too. You might as well be in on it since you’re snooping around anyway.”
Herman felt embarrassed that Tad thought he was snooping but he didn’t say anything to deny it after he climbed down the ladder and stood rather shamefully between his father and brother.
“I’ve got to enlist, papa,” Tad announced. “First thing tomorrow morning.”
“I need you to help around the farm,” papa insisted.
“You got Herman.”
Papa looked at his younger son and then at Tad. “But I need a man.”
Herman tightened his lips and looked down. He tried to tell himself that papa didn’t mean that to hurt him. It was a fact that Tad was now more of a grown up than he was. But he still felt tears beginning to cloud his eyes.
“We can’t let those Japs get away with this,” Tad replied.
Papa sighed. “I guess there’s nothing I can say to make you change your mind.”
Tad didn’t even bother to answer but got up to walk to the kitchen. “Got anything for us to eat, Herman?”
Herman lurched toward the kitchen, bumping into the dining table. He was trying to talk without bursting into tears. “Um, I can warm up what I fixed for lunch.”
The meal went without talking, as most of their meals for the last few years had gone, but this silence was more frightening, more serious than any silence Herman had ever endured before. That night he didn’t even bother to talk to Burly but just let the pent-up tears flow. The attack on Pearl Harbor was all the children and the teachers were talking about the next day at school. The men teachers immediately left to join the army. Most of the boys said their older brothers were enlisting. In that, at least, Herman could speak with pride. His brother was the first in line that morning. In a few days papa and Herman took Tad down to the bus depot in their pickup and waited with him until It was time to go. Ages seem to pass between comments.
“Mr. Cochran said he would help around the farm as much as he could, to fill in what Herman can’t do,” Tad told papa.
“I can really do a lot,” Herman offered.
Papa ignored his younger son’s remark. “I don’t think he can spare that much time.” He paused. “But I appreciate the offer.”
Tad lightly touched Herman’s shoulder. “Be sure to write Callie that I’m going into the Army. And when I can get an address you can write me at, be sure to give it to Callie, okay?”
Herman frowned. “I didn’t think you liked Callie,” he blurted out without thinking. Immediately he winced because he knew Tad would light into him for being so stupid.
Instead, Tad looked off with a sad face. “I know it seemed that way to you lots of times, but I love her because she’s my sister.” He turned to Herman. “And Herman—“
“The bus is here,” papa announced.
Herman was glad Tad didn’t finish his sentence, because he knew he would have cried, and he didn’t want to do that in the bus station with all the young men going off to war watching them. Tad jumped up and grabbed his bag and lurched toward the bus. Papa and Herman followed close behind. Just as he was about to step up into the bus he turned and hugged papa.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Papa’s shoulders heaved with pain. “I love you too,” he choked out, then began crying.
Tad climbed aboard and sat by an open window. He leaned out and yelled, “I’m sorry, Herman, about—about everything.”
And then the engine started, and the bus was gone. Herman wondered if Tad was apologizing for tearing up Burly Senior, or for the way he had treated Herman all these years or for not actually saying he loved him. At this point, Herman decided, it didn’t make any difference. At least Tad said he was sorry. Herman was happy for that.
From then on there was even less talk at home. Papa kept his words down to instructions on the farm work and saying pass the salt. Slowly, sadly Herman came to care less whether they said anything at all to each other. One day in the spring Mr. Cochran helped with the planting. He hadn’t been needed much because Herman was trying extra hard to do his chores and Tad’s too.
“You’re a hard worker, Herman,” Mr. Cochran said. “We’ve been planting since dawn and you haven’t let up once.”
Herman smiled. “Thank you, sir.” He looked at his father to see if he noticed what Mr. Cochran had said.
“Yes sir, Horn,” Mr. Cochran continued. “We’re going to finish a lot sooner than I thought.”
Papa only grunted and continued planting.
“Have you heard anything from Tad?” the neighbor asked.
Papa stood erect and smiled. “You bet. He’s already made corporal. Always knew the boy was a born leader.”
“Does he know where he’s being dispatched?” he continued his questions.
“No sir, but if he had his choice he’d rather fight the Japs than the Krauts,” papa replied. “But wherever he goes, he’ll do his best. He always has.”
That night after Herman cleaned up the supper dishes he climbed into the loft without saying good night to his father. He had gotten tired of not hearing “good night” in return. Herman picked up Burly and looked him in his button eyes.
“Why does papa brag on Tad and not on me?”
Burly shrugged. Do you really want an answer? I think you already know why.”
Herman sighed. “I guess I do. Tad needs bragging on more right now than I do.”
“The bragging isn’t for Tad,” Burly corrected him. “It’s for your papa. He’s doing it to make himself feel better, and I’m afraid he’s going to need all the feeling better that he can get.”