Mr.Uhl

guard_tower_sketch.jpg     I remember the night I met the man who drew this picture. It was a warm night and I was sitting on an old church pew set up against the row of buildings that made up the downtown of Micanopy. I had only just arrived in town not much more then a week before-so I didn’t know hardly any of the towns residents, just a few faces,but most of them strangers.

I saw these two men walking up the middle of the street. It was around 10 at night and the town was virtually dead at that time. Micanopy is a very small town.

I could tell at the way they were walking that they were not in a good mood-and when they approached me the tall bald one grabbed me up out of my seat and proved they were angry and were going to take it out on me.

Somehow the other guy sensed I was being truthful, they were looking for someone else and it was not me-this through my tears because the tall bald one had me right scared as he held me by the collar of my shirt and when he socked me in the face as a warning not to cross his path in the future I agreed that that would never happen.

It did. I became his son in law after becoming pregnant with his daughter-who was still in high school…our second meeting went with out my being socked-I was supposed to break the news to him then but after seeing who it was I was going to tell I decided to think this out a little further but eventually we had a wedding.

We ended up living together in the large Herlong House in the center of town. The old mansion was large enough my wife and I stayed up on the second floor-her dad had a large room with a bath across from the kitchen on the ground floor. We had enough privacy to imagine our two sons into life there.

Mr.Uhl and I came to love one another one day when I drove up the drive from work. He was on his hands and knees in the lawn and looked almost like he did the night I met him. It turned out he was weeding a row of vegetables he had planted and on his finger was a ring that flew off into the lawn as he flung a wad of weeds. He had been looking for the ring a large part of the afternoon. I looked down and there it was.

It was pretty amazing-the way he hugged me and then realized who was he was hugging and stopped hugging me for a second and then looked at me to say his animosity for me was over without actually saying anything…except hugging me again.

The ring was special, more so then I ever thought. Mr. Uhl was special too. He was shot down over Germany and spent the remainder of the war in Stalag Luft One. He told me that was where he learned to grow vegatables from the small gardens they might have managed to grow. They had to  have been sparse-because he said they ate rats too.

My first marriage didn’t go over well because my wife and I were just kids-with kids. So we moved apart but it’s one of those things where we are still a part of each other. We always will be because our sons and us, her and I-always makes it so.

About six or seven years ago I saw Mr.Uhl for the last time at the VA hospital in Tampa. It took me a while to explain who I was-he was certainly very ill and a week later he died. I had not seen him in so many years his grandsons had grown up and were in the military themselves,so it had to have been sixteen years. The visit afterward was a blessing-a contrast from first meeting this man with his angry face in mine to this day where he was so weak…he was pleased that I came-he saluted me-a serious and sincere salute on the way out when I told him I had to leave.

Its a funny thing how things come to you. I heard Mr.Uhl tell his POW experience to me with ears that saw the film ‘The Great Escape’ and visioned his experience on the way  that story was told. Until yesterday I confess I never really considered how awful his experience truly was-as it was a blow softened by the miracle of film mixed with a 19 year old kid not paying that much attention.

I stopped and had coffee with my sons mother yesterday and she told me about this website her father was on. It was www.merkki.com .

I never realized who Mr.Uhl was until I saw the vast collection of photos and an amazing history of this camp-the size of it and the thousands it held. The camps on the movies always appeared so quaint-this was nothing quaint. This web site is an education-the art work and the ingenuity of the prisoners to secret cameras and keep the records that they did. It makes me ashamed that I didn’t take time to really listen to Mr.Uhl.

As I probed through the web site I found a section of the surviving art. I had absolutely no idea the craft Martin Uhl had-this drawing is his,the drawing above at the head of this sending of thoughts.

I felt honored that day by Mr.Uhl’s salute-it was kind of like that day I just looked down and spotted his ring. I did not fully realize until yesterday what an great honor it really was.

One Response to “Mr.Uhl”

  1. Austin Says:

    I looked at this site for quite a bit yesterday. I’m a history buff big time so it was interesting to me to see all the photos and documents and everything. I had to remember that real people were attached to this and that it wasn’t just another war movie report or something like that. I hope when people visit that site they think of the human aspect as they appreciate history and everything.

    The email address attached to this is the one you’ll want to use for me okay?
    Austin

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