My father, Harold G. Johnson, was attached to a battalion of combat engineers with the Third Armored Division in northern Europe during World War II. He drove a big, slow truck loaded with bridge-building equipment to wherever the German army could be found. At rivers and streams, he and others would assemble this equipment while our tanks sat and waited to get at the highly agitated Germans on the other side. He came home from the war a very nervous man.

While bivouacked in Belgium for a sustained period of time, he and his buddies befriended a local urchin named Ludwig. Through the rubble and chaos of his village, Ludwig would come every day, and the soldiers would reward him with chocolate and other treats. In return, he served them as a touchstone of humanity and normalcy that my father, for one, never forgot.

When I was a small boy, he called me "Ludwig." When my little brother was born, Daddy called him "Ludwig." It was his diminutive for anything dear and vulnerable. At the time he died, in 1992, he had an old, gray cat he'd raised from a foundling. The cat's name was Ludwig. (Back)