It was 1942. The world was at war and all of mainland Europe lay under Nazi domination. Bill, the oldest of the Duffy boys, kissed his mother and said goodbye to his father and his five brothers and promised them he would return home safely from the war. He headed for the train station that would take him from Chicago to basic training. A few weeks later, he planned to sail for England. Before he left, Bobby’s father told him to remember to visit his uncle’s pub in Manchester at 538 Liverpool Way.
The Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor just a few months before had, as America’s more prescient adversaries predicted, awakened a sleeping giant. All across America– between the two coasts from which they would embark– millions of brave young men volunteered to join the fight. Before 1942 had ended, Bill had crossed the Atlantic and waited among the gathering Allied force preparing to liberate Europe.
Bill’s brothers John, Walter, and Bobby enlisted shortly after he did; John and Bobby followed him to Europe, while Walter was deployed to the Pacific. His two youngest brothers– Jim and Ed– were still in school, and though they wanted to join him, had to wait.
Standing near the shores of the Channel, at the edge of the cauldron, for over a year had been unnerving, but he had gotten used to it. Though he was proud that his brothers had answered the call, knowing they were also at risk compounded his concerns.
Bill’s letters from his father kept him informed. He learned that, days after the landings at Normandy, Bobby crossed the channel and fought with the First Army across northern France. As the Allies pushed onward toward the Rhine, his brother John fought the Germans near Bastogne in what history would call the Battle of the Bulge. Jim served as a B-24 gunner. And Walter and Ed deployed to the Philippines. Letters from home became scarcer as he and his brothers pushed deeper into Axis territory.
The Germans surrendered in May 1945, and Bill– as one of the longest serving Americans in Europe– was rewarded with leave. Remembering his father’s advice, he traveled to Manchester and sought out 538 Liverpool Way– Duffy’s Bar and Hotel– which his distant uncle owned. He met his uncle and enjoyed his first pint of beer in over a year. Then, he heard a familiar voice call out his name from across the room.
Bill couldn’t believe what he saw. His brother, Bobby, who he had not seen in more than three years stood in front of him, looking equally surprised. Bobby had also been instructed by their father to go to to the pub.
In a few weeks they would both be headed home, each fulfilling the promise they had made to their parents to come back alive.
But for now, the two brothers wept with joy, grateful to be reunited while the embers from the inferno that had consumed their youth still burned brightly.