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Faces of Courage, Jean


On the way back to the village, Jean was climbing the hills bordering the Dordogne River when he saw a streak of silver twisting and turning in the sky; trailing streaks of black smoke as it hurtled to the ground. Jean was deaf and did not hear the plane crash, but he saw the smoke rising above the trees on the other side of the river. Jean stopped on the top of a hill and watched the smoke circling above the sparkling river, and then he saw the white parachute tangled on a tree below him. A man dangling from its ropes was waving his arms, frantically trying to reach the branch of the tree.

Jean quickly ran down the hill toward the tree and climbed up, as he came close to the man he reached and pulled him to safety in a branch of the tree. Then he disentangled the ropes and helped him climb down from the tree. Jean guessed the man was the pilot of the small plane. He knew from his uniform that he was not a German. He suspected he was British or American.

The people in the farming village were happy to see the fighter planes, everyone was hoping that they would free France from the German occupation. The year was 1944 and German soldiers were all over France. Jean knew his father resented the German soldiers who took so much food from the village that there was little left for the farmers to sell.

Safely on the ground, Jean faced the pilot who was speaking to him, but he could not read his words. They were not French. Jean pointed to his ears and shook his head, trying to make the pilot understand that he could not hear. Jean could see fear in the pilot’s eyes and he wanted to reassure him and let him know he was safe. Jean quickly pulled his sweater off and pushed it in the pilot’s hands and pulled on the pilot’s jacket. The American understood and removed his jacket and pulled Jean’s sweater over his head.

Pointing to the parachute that was still tangled in the tree, Jean climbed back up the tree and brought it down. Rolling it up into a bundle, he hid the parachute and the pilot’s jacket beneath a bush. Pointing to a path through the oak trees that bordered the road, Jean led the pilot along the dirt road overgrown with bushes. Jean hoped they would not be seen. As they trudged side by side though the trees, Jean, sure his father would want to help the pilot, Jean decided to bring him back to the farm in the next village. Jean was on his way home after delivering butter and eggs to his father’s friend in the neighboring village. Jean lived with his father; his mother had died the year before. Jean had two older brothers but they were in the French army.

Tall and husky, Jean was tall for his seventeen years, but he was lonely. No one in the farming village knew his language of signs. Jean left the school for the deaf in Paris when the Germans occupied the city. Jean had a friend from the school for the deaf in the nearby village and he was disappointed to discover that he had moved away.

Jean and the pilot could not walk very fast over the overgrown path through the trees. The path led to the main road where walking was easier. They no sooner started walking on the road, when Jean felt the pilot shake his arm. Jean turned and saw the truck coming up the road behind them and quickly pulled the pilot up a hill beside the road. They hid behind the small cottage on the top of the hill. There was a gasoline shortage and no one but the Germans had gasoline for trucks.

Jean peered around the cottage and looked down at the road. The truck did not stop and went it had passed, Jean and the pilot began to make their way back to the road. The door of the cottage opened and a large black dog came towards them blocking their path. Jean knew the dog was barking. An old woman came out of the cottage and looked around. The dog came close to Jean and the pilot, but Jean stood by calmly and let the dog approach. Then he reached out and petted him. The dog stopped barking and went back into the cottage.

Walking along the road, Jean felt happy, he had a companion, someone who trusted him and let him lead the way. As they got close to the village, Jean could see children coming out of the school next to the church. The village priest stood in front of the church and Jean did not want him to see the pilot. Grabbing the pilot’s arm, he pulled him to the back of the church. When the children had gone, the priest went back inside the church. And they began walking again.

The road led through a countryside that was dotted by small farms and the market place in the center of the village. It was late afternoon, but there were still many people in the market. Jean was wondering how they could avoid being seen; there was no place to walk. except in front of the market. Jean had an idea and began showing the pilot some of his signs. The pilot nodded and began to imitate him and Jean and the pilot walked through the market making signs. Jean thought the neighbors would think the pilot was his friend, Phillipe from the neighboring village. He knew that many people knew about Phillipe, but they had never seen him. Jean felt more confident now and was not afraid of meet anyone.

One of the farmers saw Jean approaching and stopped him. Jean put his arm around the pilot’s shoulder and carefully pronounced the words, “My friend, Phillipe, he deaf like me”. The man stared at the pilot but then he shrugged and walked away. A number of other people were also looking at Jean, but he did not think that their behavior was unusual. Few people took the time to talk to Jean even though he could read their lips and pronounce words clearly. Jean often felt he was ignored, he thought people thought he was dumb as well as deaf.

The smell of freshly baked bread wafted out of the bakery reminding Jean had promised his father to bring home bread. Leading the pilot into the bakery, Jean repeated his words to the baker, “He my friend, Phillipe, deaf like me.” The baker nodded and gave Jean two loaves of bread and then he hurried them outside through a back door.

When they got close to the farm, Jean was surprised to see his father waiting for them in front of the house. He seemed to be expecting the pilot and hurried him into the barn. His father sent Jean back to the house for a blanket and some clothes while he brought soup, bread, and cheese on a tray. Jean’s father made the pilot a bed of hay and put the blanket down. He did not know the pilot’s language either, but he knew he was an American. After eating the soup and cheese, the pilot gave the bowl back to Jean and covered himself with the blanket. Jean and his father left the barn and went back into the house to eat their dinner.

Sitting across from his father, Jean thanked him and said. “People think he is my friend Phillipe. He stay in the barn and help on the farm.”

Jean’s father looked at his son’s smiling face and shook his head. He knew that Jean had no idea how quickly news traveled in the farming village. Everyone knew that an American fighter plane had crashed. They also knew that German soldiers would be coming to the village to search for the pilot. Jean’s father also knew that there were a few people in the village who were cooperating with the Germans and he was too worried to explain to Jean why the pilot could not stay.

As soon as they had finished their dinner, Jean’s father opened the door and a man Jean did not know entered the house. Jean tried to read his lips as he spoke to his father, but he was talking too quickly. His father told Jean to stay in the house and took the man to the barn. But Jean followed them, he could see that the man was able to talk to the pilot.

His father gestured him to go back to the house and Jean obeyed. He went to bed; he could not sleep. Later that night, he went out to the barn. The pilot had gone. There was no sign that he had been there. Jean felt angry and betrayed and he woke his father. “He had to go. He will be safe, now go back to bed,” his father told him.

Jean felt like he had lost a friend, he wanted him to stay on the farm. He had no idea where the pilot was taken. He thought he would be safe on the farm.

The next morning, German soldiers drove up to the farm and searched every room in the house. His father put his fingers to his lips and Jean knew why the pilot had to leave.

The soldiers were holding guns and one of them came close to Jean’s father. Afraid the soldier would hurt him, Jean moved close to him. The soldier looked angry Jean read the words on his father’s lips, “No one here but me and my son. ” Jean could not read the soldier’s lips when he yelled in German, “There’s no one else here but a deaf dummy”.

When the soldiers left, Jean embraced his father and thanked him for helping the pilot escape.

After the war, Jean received a letter from the American pilot. Jean’s father took it to his English-speaking friend to translate it.

Dear Jean,

I want you to know how grateful I will always be to you. You saved my life. Your father’s friend brought me to a safe place and helped me to escape. Thanks to you, I am home with my family. I will never forget you. You are a real hero.

Your friend,
Steve, the American pilot