Page 15


opened in the West End. It was his first time there since he had crossed the English Channel to fight in the hedgerows of Normandy. He called a couple in Hull, whom he had met when in England in 1943, and was invited to visit. He and Glenda took a train to Hull. The couple they visited were of scant means, it became obviousthough they produced a bottle of champagne. Lanvil could not bring himself to say that he didn’t drinkhad never even tasted any alcoholic drinkso he had a glass of champagne. “It was apparent they had extended themselves to buy it,” he said. When Glenda told me Lanvil had a drink Ithen on the wagon, at the request of my wife, my doctor, and my liversaid “God, I wish Aunt Clara was still alive and my mother was not senile! How I’d love to tell them that Lanvil drank more in England than I did!” Lanvil led the laughter. The London trip pushed the wanderlust button in both Lanvil and Glenda. I lost track of the times they returned to Europe and traveled elsewhere during the next 20 years. Always, Lanvil armed himself with maps and books about the places he intended to go andonce therenever encountered a native he didn’t quiz. Even after two heart attacks, a bypass operation, and two strokes confined Lanvil Gilbert to a wheelchair and a walker, he continued to read travel books and examine maps as if getting ready for another trip. Maybe a decade ago, visiting Lanvil in his Austin home, I decided to play a prank that turned out to be far from funny. My cousin had fallen asleep in an easy chair and after a few moments I shouted, “PRIVATE GILBERT! FRONT AND CENTER!” He jerked erect yelling, “YO, SIR!” And when I saw the confusion and terror in his eyes, I saw that I had stupidly returned him to a haunted and fearful place, if only for a few seconds. I apologized profusely. He not only forgave me, but began the first and only narrative report of his time in combat. But as time went on and he talked of the carnage he had seen, the atrocities, the soul-searing cries of the dying, the unheeded calls for God and Mother by the maimed, his emotional dam broke at long last and he cried like a baby. I rushed to cradle him, rocking him, weeping with him. “It’s over,” I choked, trying to comfort him. “It’s over, Lanvil.” He gasped, “No! It will never be over!” Lanvil Gilbert was right about most things, but he was wrong about that. It was truly over for him on November 21, 2003. R.I.P., Old Soldier. R.I.P., my brother. Larry L. King is currently writing a biography of former Daily Texan, Observer, and Harper’s editor Willie Morris.