Editor's Note: The following is a submitted story, about the
return home of a WWII Hopkins County Soldier and tells some
interesting facts about the way soldiers were discharged from the service.
The Peddler From Nowhere
by: Robert G. Cowser
For weeks we had been anticipating the return of my sister’s husband from France. It was August, 1945. For several days my sister pored over the lists of American soldiers that appeared daily in the Dallas Morning News. The lists included the names of returning soldiers on each liner that docked at the port in Hoboken, New Jersey. Royal Wilder, my brother-in-law, grew up near Dike and moved to Saltillo with his parents when he was nineteen. He served in the Engineers’ Battalion during the invasion of France. He helped lay the lines under the waters of the English Channel so that Allied jeeps and tanks could be supplied with fuel. His efforts were part of the PLUTO operation (Pipe Lines Under the Ocean).
My sister tried to be patient because she knew Royal would have to be mustered out of the Army and that it would take a couple of days for the train he boarded to arrive at the small depot in Saltillo.
Before Royal came to visit us, he and my sister stayed for two days at his parents’ house in town. We lived five miles away on a farm. My parents and I, who was almost fourteen, and my younger brother were anxious to see Royal in the flesh after his two-year absence, but the protocol required that the veteran be allowed to reunite first with his wife and his own parents..
Royal and my sister drove to our house from his parents’ house early one afternoon. We greeted them from the front porch. Royal took a seat in one of the lawn chairs facing the porch, and my sister took a vacant chair beside his. My brother and I sat with our legs dangling over the edges of our small front porch. The talk was amazingly casual, considering the long separation and the traumatic events of the war in Europe that had just ended a few months before.
As I sat on the edge of the porch, I noticed a car coming to a halt in front of our house.
“Another peddler,” my mother sighed.
A grey-haired man of slight build got out of the car and reached into the backseat to take out a wire rack of bottles and spice cans. As he approached, my father pointed to a space on the edge of the porch that was vacant. The peddler placed his rack on the ground and sat down.
The peddler’s visit interrupted a reunion of a soldier with the relatives of the soldier’s wife after an absence of two years. I do not recall his asking whether he was intruding, nor did my father inform him that he was.
The peddler told us that he was now a single man; his wife had “got scared of the chickens and left their home.”
I do not recall whether my parents bought a bottle of lemon flavoring or a small can of nutmeg from the meager supply of condiments, but I do remember that the peddler stayed an hour or two. The topic of my brother-in-law’s two-year absence, most of that time in a combat zone, never came up.