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Page 6 NEWFOUNDLAKELIFE.COM January 2022 Community
 BERT HIRTLE: With a Clear Lens and a Kind Heart Part 1 of 2
By William nieman
Bert lounged comfortably in his Alexandria, New Hampshire mountain home on the living room couch. His head was resting next to a toy stuffed Norwegian Elkhound, a remembrance of the many dogs of that breed that he and his wife, Ruth, had adopted. He began doz- ing, a reasonable activity for a man who had survived over 100 years of life. Bert’s light sleep offered the opportunity to experience rever- ies from years long ago. He once again became a young soldier in the elite 85th Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. After intensive training in Colorado, the young mountaineers had been deployed to Italy, assigned to fight their way through the Apennines, the Po Val- ley, and on to the Southern escarp- ments of the Italian Alps.
In his dreamlike state, Bert re- called a telling moment with his battalion commander. Bert was assigned as a forward scout to ob- serve German troop movements. He was, in that regard, responsible for the safety of the 1st Battalion’s soldiers. He was standing next to
his senior officer who was studying Bert’s gear. The General took a special interest in his scout’s binoc- ulars and, before leaving Bert, gave him only one order, to make sure the field glasses had no smudges on the lenses.
The sound of an approaching car awakened Bert, but only briefly. He dozed again and found himself on board a troop ship. The war in Europe was over, and the 10th Mountain Division was crossing the Atlantic, bound for New York. The Division’s deployment had been short, only a few months, but it had suffered staggering ca- sualties, a rate of 1,200 a month. Considering the experience of death and dismemberment, (Bert’s younger brother, Parker, had been seriously wounded by a land mine.) one would think the sea voyage to New York would have been joy- ful, but the veterans of Italy were somewhat subdued. They had heard that they would be deployed after amphibious training to the in- vasion of the Japanese mainland. The Department of the Army foresaw a staggering casualty rate of 50% among the troops assigned
to the invasion. For much of the voyage, Bert, like the other troops aboard the Marine Fox, did not know if he would live a full life or die within a couple of months, a young man at age 24. Then on a Tuesday, August 7th, four days before the troop ship was to reach New York Harbor, came news that a huge new weapon had destroyed the city of Hiroshima. There were more weapons, and Japan would surely have to surrender. The men on board now faced the prospect of a long life. However, probably none of them imagined a longevity of 100 years!
Bert snapped back to full con- sciousness, hearing the sound of the lilting voices of two young boys. (Billy, age 7, and Jimmy, age 5.) They had come with their mother and me, as promised, to visit an “ancient” man who shared Jimmy’s birthday, September 25th. They would celebrate the coinci- dent birthdays with cupcakes and a much-anticipated exploration of the unique house built by Bert and his wife Ruth in the 1980s. After an exchange of greetings, Billy asked the big question.
“Are you really 100 years old?”
Seeming somewhat reflective and unsure, Bert paused, then an- swered with a simple “Yes, I am 100.”
Jimmy said, as if he were an expert on 100-year-old men, ”You don’t look 100.” Bert asked Jimmy how old he appeared to be.
Jimmy responded quickly with the surety of a five-year- old, ”About 70,” and then asked, “How do you stay so young?”
Now it was Bert who responded
“Jimmy, the secret is not to
worry, remember that.”
Bert, once a teacher and aware
of the short attention span of chil- dren, asked the boys if they were ready to explore the uniquely de- signed house. Without hesitation, the boys were off for some sleuth- ing, and their first destination was a mysterious spiral staircase leading to the second floor. We will learn about their discoveries in the sub- sequent episode.
  Amy Nelson
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