NATO NATO !!! The children yelled as they pelted our vehicles with flowers. I imagined the troops that had liberated France experienced somewhat of a similar reception as they chased the Nazis across Europe. Our small 2 vehicle patrol stopped on the side of the road as our Team Leader got out of the vehicle to stretch his legs and get his bearings. He was mobbed by the older children, asking for candy and trying to touch his uniform.
Standing off to the side, shyly looking from the shadow of a doorway I saw a little girl. She must have been 4-5 years old. She had dark brown hair and brown almost black eyes. Her skin was brown and she was wearing a bright blue t shirt. The older children crowded her out but it was obvious she was curious about the Americans and our big green vehicles.
I beckoned her over and I jumped down from the hatch of the Humvee. I reached into my pocket where I kept a chocolate bar and I handed it to her. Her eyes lit up as she unwrapped the bar and shoved half of it into her mouth. I laughed, she reminded me of my own daughter who was back in Germany with my Wife. The little girl munched on the candy as the brown chocolatey drool dripped from the corners of her mouth. She took her sticky fingers and pointed towards my right shoulder where I had an American flag patch sewn to my battle dress uniform. Through a series of hand gestures we established that she wanted to touch the flag. I made a face to show her that her hands were a sticky mess but I reached into my pocket were I had another flag patch that I had been saving for a moment like this.
Suddenly our lead vehicle started to move and I leaped back into the hatch of our vehicle. I threw the patch at the little girl and waved as we moved off further into the mountainous countryside. Several weeks later we passed through the same village. By that time our presence was not as unusual and the children basically ignored us as they kicked their soccer balls and played in the muddy streets. I had almost forgotten the little girl until I saw her racing across the open field that served as the village center. I recognized her because she was wearing the same bright blue t shirt. As she got closer I could see that the shirt was different somehow. That is when I saw the red,white and blue American flag that she had sewn on to the right shoulder of her shirt. Sewn in the same place we wore ours. I waved although we did not stop. She proudly pointed at the flag and I gave her a thumbs up as we rounded the corner and she was out of sight.
Sometimes I wonder about the little girl, she would be in her late teens or early twenties by now. I wonder if she still has that flag and if she is still as proud of it as I am.