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The Last Cavalry Charge in Cleveland

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Joseph Hussar got off the bus in downtown Cleveland. He was on an errand for his granddaughter that was to take him to unknown streets and silent memories. Kathleen had sent him to Ben’s Shoe Repair to have her ballet slippers, as she said, “re-built as only Ben can do it.”

Now, here he was, lost and meandering about in downtown’s innards. Although Joseph was sixty-eight years old, he didn’t appear as if he was lost. His purposeful stride was long and military- exact with his shoulders pressed back, and chin tucked-in.

Joseph’s search for Ben’s was diverted when he stopped in front of a store bearing the name, The Cleveland Fencing Academy. Looking in the window, Joseph saw three parallel fencing strips each three feet wide and forty feet long. Two of the strips were unoccupied, but on the third strip a fencing master, so identified by his traditional black fencing jacket, was instructing a young student on the saber. The teacher advanced toward the student while making a straight head cut. The student retreated one step as he raised his saber, bringing it parallel to the floor and above his head, to parry the instructor’s attack. The student reposted with a return head cut to the instructor. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A sign on the front door welcomed visitors, so Joseph entered and took a seat along the wall underneath a picture of President Reagan.

The sounds of clashing sabers stirred Joseph’s memory of the years he spent as a child honing his fencing skills, all the while, under the critical eye of his father. His father lectured him on the honor and the glory of leading horse mounted, saber wielding soldiers into combat. Joseph was to know that honor, but he was also to know the sin of selfish murder.

The instructor glanced at Joseph, but continued with the lesson. Within minutes, the student’s breathing had become labored, and the instructor took a break.

“Hello…welcome, I’m Martin.”

Joseph stood, shifting the bag with the slippers into his left hand, as he shook Martin’s hand.

“I’m Joseph Hussar. I just stopped-in to watch. I didn’t know there was a fencing academy in Cleveland. I don’t mean to interrupt.”

“No problem,” Martin said, “So few residents know about my studio that I’m happy to have visitors. Have you done any fencing?”

“I started fencing when I was a boy back in the 1920s in my country, Hungary. I was raised in a military family, so I was expected to follow my father and his father. Fencing wasn’t just a sport to me. I was raised to be a cavalry officer.”

Martin raised his eyebrows. “Were you a cavalry officer in World War II?”

“I was an officer in the Second Cavalry Corps under the command of General von Hardeneck.”

“Forgive me for asking, but is that a dueling scar that divides your right eyebrow?”

“No,” Joseph smiled, “although my friends at the military academy were jealous of that scar. I looked very manly; like I had been in a duel.  Really, I cut my head when a runner collapsed on a sled I was riding.”

Martin squinted as he jogged his memory. “I seem to recall from a college history class that the last great mounted cavalry charge of WWII was made by a Polish Cavalry Regiment directly into an attack by German tanks.”

“No, that report wasn’t true,” Joseph countered. “I remember it. We laughed at that report. It was made by the Nazi propaganda ministry to show how “stupid” the Polish Cavalry was to defend against the “inevitable” German victory. Neither the Poles, nor we Hungarians, not even our horses, were so dumb that we would attack tank formations. We used our cavalry to attack the infantry units positioned behind the tanks, not the tanks.”

Martin continued, “Were your horsemen able to do much damage to the Germans?”

“Well, please understand, Hungary was a member of the Axis Powers; we fought with the Germans, not against them. My division was sent to our southwest border to fight the Romanians.  Later, I fought the Russians as they were on their way to Berlin.  I wasn’t a Nazi. I was a professional military officer in the service of my country. Some say my former military rank automatically associated me with Nazi atrocities. I don’t think so, but I know some westerners who still feel hatred toward me.”

“So, you were a high-ranking officer.”

“By the time the war ended, I was a twenty-eight-year-old full colonel. I commanded a regiment, but I really didn’t earn my rank. I was promoted after the officers senior to me were killed. I was just the next man up.

“I was lucky. During four years of combat, I never got a scratch and never lost a horse.

“After the war, my luck changed. Stalin and his communists took control of Hungary. Because I had fought the Russians and had held a high military rank, the communists prevented me from attaining any position of rank or value.  I, Colonel Joseph S. Hussar, Commanding Officer of the Second Regiment, Second Cavalry Corps, First Division of the Royal Hungarian Army, was reduced in rank by the Russians and assigned to be the civilian commander of a horse drawn milk wagon.”

Martin’s student interrupted to ask about finishing his lesson. Martin introduced his student to Joseph. “This man actually used a saber in a war, John.”

“Wow, really? Did you kill anybody with it?”

“John,” Martin admonished, “we don’t ask a soldier if he killed anyone.”

John’s dad wedged the front door open and signaled John that it was time to leave.

As the boy left, Martin sat down and signaled Joseph to join him.

“Were you a military man, Martin? I ask because you seemed to understand soldiering when you told that boy not to ask me about killing.”

“Yes Sir,” showing respect to Joseph’s rank, “I was an enlisted man in the First Air Cavalry from 69-71; but we rode in helicopters.

Martin abruptly changed the subject. He didn’t care to discuss Viet Nam. “How did you end-up in the U.S.?”

“You’re too young to remember the Hungarian Revolt of 1956. The Russians were caught off-guard and didn’t know how to respond. After two weeks, the Russian central command finally decided to crush the uprising.

“In that two-week period, I, like thousands of others, decided to make a run for freedom into Austria. My wife wouldn’t go. She said she needed to stay to care for her mother, but really, she was too scared to go. I did convince her to let me take our son with me. Although it took me five years to accomplish, I promised my wife and daughter that we would be together again as a family.”

Suddenly, Joseph stopped talking, but his mind raced on to thoughts of which he never spoke. Near the Austrian border, Joseph and his son walked north of the border-crossing with the hope of crossing at an unguarded location. When he saw the border, he also saw a lone border guard directly in front of him. Every day, Joseph asks God to forgive him for killing that young Hungarian farm boy. He learned that day, freedom, bought at the price of an innocent’s life, enslaves the mind forever.

On the Hungarian side of the fence the Russians had laid a minefield about seventy-five yards in depth. As Joseph began to run through the minefield, he lifted his son to sit on his shoulders. He knew the higher his son was above the ground, the better his son’s chance of surviving if he stepped on a mine.

Martin saw that Joseph’s eyes were fixed on a time far away. To break the silence, Martin suggested, “How about you and I going a few touches with sabers?”

“Okay,” Joseph replied, as his mind snapped out of the mine field.

Joseph donned a jacket, mask and glove Martin kept handy for new students. The saber Martin handed him felt like the handshake of an old friend. As Joseph stepped onto the strip, he reflexively brought the sabre to his face and then swept it downward in the traditional fencer’s salute to an opponent.

With a glint in his eye, Joseph proffered, “You know, Martin, because the war ended in pure confusion in Hungary, I am still on the army’s roster as a colonel in the Hungarian Army. Regardless of whether my command is just me, be I mounted or dismounted, when I advance against you with a saber in hand, it will be the historic --- last cavalry charge.”

Martin smiled and nodded his agreement. “It is an honor, Colonel, to fence a soldier who actually led a cavalry charge.” Then he commanded, “en garde.”

As Joseph assumed the on-guard position, he looked to his left and then his right. Behind him he sensed a line of 150 mounted cavalrymen with rifles strapped across their chests and hands resting on the pommels of their battle swords. Seven hundred yards to their front were elements of the Romanian Fifth Division. As his horse pawed the ground and grunted, the colonel drew his battle sword: in immediate response, 150 swords simultaneously rattled out of their scabbards. With hand-guards resting on their right thighs, blades pointed to the sky, battle flags flying, and chin straps tightened, the soldiers of the Second Cavalry looked to their colonel and awaited his order to attack.

As Joseph advanced, he thrust his saber towards Martin and whispered,

CHARGE.”

Biography. Jay Hogan is a retired attorney who enjoys writing because “you can’t retread a retiree.” He may be contacted at jevanhogan@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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