(this is a companion piece for Eulogy for a Women Who Was Born Only Yesterday)
The preacher rested his hands on the pulpit. His was not a large church. It was small and simple with clapboard and bare wooden pews. It befitted its place. The spiritual home of a small farming community in the heart of Nebraska. It had once been bigger. But as with many farming areas, the young had moved on and the communities had withered. Even as the farms expanded, the number of people needed to run them had declined. So even though his was a small church, it was still too grand by far.
Today, even that would have been optimistic. Today, there were six souls in attendance. Four if you didn’t count the dead man’s sister and his only son.
The preacher was disappointed by the crowd. But not terribly so. It was to be expected, the dead man had moved here late in life and had never set down solid root.
The preacher knew that crowd or not, he had words to say. He was thankful to the Lord that there was at least somebody there to listen.
“Alfred Brandt was born in this town in 1925. His father Conrad, was, like myself, a preacher. His wife, Evelyn was a rock of the community. Despite their modest means, they supported families down on their luck and those in need could always rely on them for help and words of encouragement.
“When little Alfred was only 10 years old, his parents decided to take the Word of God to Brazil. They, of course, were not the first to do so. But they believed their Word was still needed. They were not Catholics.”
The preacher noted that one of the attendees was already checking his watch. The preacher could offer him no succor. Alfred Brandt was a man who deserved the time.
“Evelyn and Conrad settled and established a small community in what was then a very old city – but one that was only recently modernizing. It was the 40,000 person city of Natal in Rio Grande del Norte. The elder Brandts remained there for the rest of their lives – until 1953 for Evelyn and 1957 for Conrad. They were there in 1939 when the war with Germany began.
“Brazil was not a member of the Allied Powers. But by 1942, when the United States joined the war, they were. More importantly, the little city the Brandts lived in became one of the most important places in the world. Brazil’s northeast coast was the natural invasion point for a German Army. Perhaps more importantly, it was the ideal jumping off point for aircraft bringing men and arms to the European and Pacific theaters. During the war, Natal’s airport became the largest US air base outside US territory. And it was the busiest airport in the world, with planes taking off and landing every three minutes. The city of Natal doubled in size and became known as the Trampoline to Victory. And it was Alfred’s home.
“Alfred’s parents were worldly people, they knew about the war and they knew what was good and what was evil. And so they encouraged their son to enlist in the United States Armed Forces. Of course, there wasn’t much of a recruiting office in Natal.
“Alfred told me that they didn’t know what to do with him when he showed up at the base. He claimed to be a US citizen, and he had the papers to prove it, but his name was German. Not only was his name German, but he was in the middle of a very strategic nowhere in Northeastern Brazil. The military was honestly concerned that he was a saboteur or, worse, a spy. The Army needed to know who he was. So he and his parents were interviewed and questions were asked back here in Nebraska. And eventually, after a whole lot of hoopla, the young man was enlisted. Because of his Portuguese and English skills, the Army wanted to keep him in Natal. So he became a airplane mechanic.
“Soon after enlisting, he spoke with his commanding officers, and he arranged something unique. Every bomber aircrew – and even some cargo crews – that came through that town and that had the time to spare, were given permission to go off base. And under Alfred’s management, every one of them was treated to a home-cooked meal by somebody in the Brandt’s little religious community. Over the course of three years, thousands of meals were served. The Brandts and their flock didn’t have much, but they did their best to help those who needed a little comfort before facing the dangers of war. And Alfred arranged it.”
“Alfred never saw combat. He decided to stay in the military for a little while after the war. It would be a free ticket to travel. He was in the US when he met and married his wife Beatrice. Less than a year later, they had a son Donald. Beatrice and Alfred realized that they loved to travel. And not just tour places, but live in them and have a chance to experience and become a part of communities. And so Alfred stayed with the military. He was moved all over the world. And wherever they went, they sought out those in need and they gave what they could to help. Alfred stayed in the military for 30 years. He never really climbed the ranks. He stayed a mechanic the entire time. Well before his retirement, their son and his wife had settled in Missouri.
“When Alfred retired, they realized the travel bug hadn’t been satiated. Because the Brandt’s had given so much, they didn’t have a great deal of money. So he decided to work as they moved from place to place.
“The first destination was Iran. They were an ally then and Alfred worked as a fighter mechanic in the Shah’s Air Force. His skills were greatly in demand and he and his wife traveled everywhere from Iran to India, and from Europe to Israel. They were enjoying their retirement immensely. And then they noticed the winds of change. Just prior to the 1979 Revolution, they fled.
“Alfred’s skills, honed on ancient aircraft from World War II, were gradually becoming less and less relevant. But he still wanted to work and he and his wife still wanted to travel. So they went to Africa, a land filled with old planes that needed quite a bit of loving care. They settled in Kenya and continued their exploring ways. Africa, then as now, was a continent of great need. The Brandts started a children’s health clinic in Kenya. They raised money from all of their contacts and used it to help the people who were around them.
“It was in Kenya, in 2003, that Evelyn died. Alfred brought her back to the US. By then, he was almost 80 years old. With her passing, and his growing ill-health, the travelling bug was finally gone. And so Alfred returned here, to his home town.
“When he first came here, I had no idea who he was. I introduced myself and we talked and got to know each other, some. He told me about his parents, he told me that he had a military career. He told me he had lived in Iran and Kenya. But he never told me about his charity work. I learned not a thing about what he did in Natal, during his military service, in Iran or even in Africa.
“Not a word.
“To me he was just an lonely old man who had returned home to die.”
The preacher paused.
“But when he died, it was like a beacon had been broadcast to the world.”
The preacher reached under his pulpit and pulled out a large bag. A bag that bursting at the seams.
“From the time he died until today, I have received 508 letters of condolence. There are only seven of us here in the flesh, but 515 people are here in spirit. I read some of those letters and I learned about the real Alfred Brandt. But only a glimpse. Many letters still remain. All of the stories I’ve read have been inspirational tales of gratitude. Tales of lives saved, of lives changed and of hope given.
“By reading just a few of these letters, I have learned so much from this man. And I have learned how to be a better man. And I have discovered what an honor it was to have met
“Now, I invite those of you who knew him to share your memories. But then, please, go a step further. Open a letter or two, tell us the postmark, and then share a memory from somebody else who loved him.
“We will all be richer for it.”
The preacher set the bag on the table and Alfred’s son rose to share a few words.
The above is a totally made up eulogy for a man who does not exist (although there were and are people who fed soldiers meals while they are in transit).