Literary Yard

Search for meaning


By: Ed Nichols


My daddy’s name was Jefferson Henry Wilkes and the last time I saw him was in the insane asylum in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1958. He’d been there for four years when we visited him that last time. My mother worked at the mill in Clarkesville, and on a Friday afternoon when she got home from work, she announced to me and my brother, Roy: “We are going to get up early in the morning and drive down to Milledgeville and visit Henry.” She always called him Henry, even to us, his sons. For some reason she never called him daddy or father or any other name like some kid’s parents called their spouses. But I know she loved him, and before the war and for a couple of years after, they had a pretty good life together. But around 1948 or ’49, daddy started to lose his mind. Looking back on it now, I know that whatever he went through in the war caused it. Daddy tried to be normal. He tried real hard. He bought a bulldozer and flat bed truck as soon as he got out of the army, and he had plenty of work all around the county. He graded for chicken houses, fish ponds, and carved out a lot of logging roads in the mountains north of town. I think he really began to lose his mind when he worked on those logging roads way back in the hills. No one worked with him then, and I believe being all alone, driving that bulldozer all day, gave him too much time to reflect and think about all he saw and did in the war.

I remember sitting with Roy in daddy’s room in the insane asylum and watching our mother standing beside his bed talking to him. He never said much to her that day, but I remember him turning his head on the pillow and looking over to me and Roy. It gave me a strange feeling. I wasn’t afraid or anything, it’s just that he didn’t look like my daddy anymore. His eyes were sunk way back in his head, and he seemed spastic. I mean his arms jerked and his head would move strange-like every few minutes. They had given him electric shock treatments; mother told us about them on the way back home. That’s why he seemed spastic, she said. She was always optimistic and she told us she believed that maybe these treatments would help cure him and he could return home soon. I sure hoped that was true because that insane asylum was the worst place I had ever visited. They said, at that time, in the early sixties, it was the largest insane asylum in the United States. Nearly 12,000 people were institutionalized there. It was an awful place and I still remember seeing all sorts of people, and hearing screams and banging noises and shouts and cuss words and workers in white clothes running up and down the halls. And the thing I remember most was that everyone seemed so serious—the workers and the patients. No one laughed or smiled.

I didn’t ever want to go back to Milledgeville, and I didn’t have to because daddy died the next week after that last visit. They called mother at the mill and told her and she told me and Roy when we got home from school. We had his funeral that week and buried him in the Clarkesville cemetery in the Wilkes family plot. I miss him still, and every June 6 when they have news and all on TV about D-Day and veteran’s reunions, and war movies, it brings up memories of daddy. We never were able to understand what all he went through. He never said nothing about his time in the war.


Today, I have a small farm north of town. About sixty acres. I raise cows—keep about fifty head—and bale a lot of hay in the summer. I keep some of the hay, and sell around two hundred bales each year. After daddy died mother would never sell his bulldozer. She did rent it out a few times. When I bought my farm she told me to take it and use it. I did. Through the years I had to replace parts, but it’s still a good machine—will still move dirt. When I used it, I would think about daddy and how good he was driving it. And every time I climbed up on the bulldozer, I would picture him climbing up beside me.

Roy was a lot smarter than me and he went off to college and got a bunch of degrees and today he is a professor at the university down in Athens. He and his wife, Amy, come up to visit me and my wife, Sherry, every couple of months. We enjoy each others company, and I think it’s good for Roy to get away from all the academic types he has to deal with. This past weekend they visited and on Saturday night we all sat around our dining room table drinking wine and thinking about playing Scrabble. That had been our intentions. But we never got around to Scrabble as Roy had brought a folder with some papers about daddy’s time in the war. He had been real serious since they had arrived from Athens, and he told me we needed to go over some information he had come across. He’d been researching the Holocaust for a book he is writing.

“While doing the research, I looked into daddy’s service record,” he said.

“From the VA?” I asked.

“No. Mostly off the internet and in the university library.” Roy spread the papers and copies of pictures on the table. He said, “Daddy was a private for a good while, but after the Battle of the Bulge, he was promoted to sergeant. He was in an armored division in the Third Army. He saw a lot of fighting.” Roy handed me several sheets of paper. He said, “Now, Charlie, and you too Sherry, some of this information is pretty gruesome. Amy has seen it already.”

Then Roy began telling us the story of how daddy’s regiment was the first to come upon a Nazi concentration camp. He said, “All of the details of this concentration camp, and what occurred there when daddy and his regiment arrived, were declassified several years ago. But there have been many rumors about what actually occurred.”

“Something bad happened?” I asked.


Roy showed us pictures of boxcars full of dead people. “The first thing they saw was a train load of these sketal corpses—thousands. The German SS were going to dispose of the

bodies elsewhere.”

Sherry said, “My God.”

It was hard looking at the pictures, knowing that my daddy had encountered them in real life. Next Roy showed us several pictures of emancipated prisoners. Then he read from a paper that explained how several GI’s had killed some of the German camp guards. They had been lined up against a wall and shot. “Nobody knows exactly how many unarmed Germans our soldiers killed…executed. Some said fifty, others said five hundred.”

“I guess they were outraged at what all the camp guards had done,” I said.

“Yea,” Roy said. “I’ve thought about it—I wonder what I would’ve done.”

“I might’ve done the same thing,” I said. “But, the army probably said that they had crossed the line, becoming criminals instead of soldiers.”

“You’re right. That’s mentioned in the papers.”

“Were any of our soldiers prosecuted?”

“No. In fact General Patton got involved and told the soldiers, and the media, to forget about it. He said something like, ‘Forget it, go back home and get on with your lives.’”

I looked at Roy and asked, “You figure daddy was involved in this—killing the German guards?”

Roy picked up the last picture and handed to me. It clearly showed a bulldozer pushing dirt onto several bodies lying in a ditch. “Those are the guards that were shot.”

“So they buried them?” I asked.

“Seems they did,” Roy said. He paused, and then said with a quiver in his voice, “Look closely at the American soldier driving the bulldozer.”

I held the picture closer and saw a soldier sitting high on the bulldozer. There was no

doubt it was him, and he was smiling and had one arm up in the air like he was waving at someone. “My God!” I said.


Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia.  He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia.  He is a short story award winner from Southeastern Writer’s Association.  Ed’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming in: Every Writer’s Resource, Fiction On The WebShort-Stories.meVending Machine Press, Floyd County Moonshine Review, Beorh Quarterly, Page and Spine, Belle Reve Literary JournalWorkDrunk Monkeys, and Crack the Spine Literary Magazine.



  1. Very interesting story that seems like it could really have happened. I could picture him sitting on that bulldozer!

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