A Seaman's Journey

Adventures of a Lifetime

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Bag of Potatoes

by Mark Seaman


Billy crouched on the running boards of the train as it raced through the country side. He did not have enough money to get a ticket for the inside. He was on a terribly important mission. The very survival of his family was at stake.

The war was over now but the true struggle had just started. Most of the people in Berlin lived in rubble from the allied bombing. The survivors were starving to death and bands of Russian soldiers were wandering the streets looking for payback. Stalin had posters put up around the city to encourage the army to unbelievable acts of brutality and terror. It was the very worst for the women of any age.

Billy was ten when given the important task of taking a clock and a small chest of drawers into the country to exchange for food. Citizens were trading any possessions that they might have to get enough food to survive another few days or weeks.

On this trip he was able to exchange the household items for a twenty-pound sack of potatoes. Now Billy was perched precariously on the running boards of the locomotive as it took him back home. His most pressing concern was with all of the hungry people that surrounded him. It would be all too easy for anyone to take the bag of taters from the young boy.

During that train ride Billy made a vow that if he ever survived that experience he would never live in a city. He would live somewhere far away where he could feed his family with food that they grew.

I met Bill Voigt thirty years later, living about fifty miles from the edge of civilization. He and his family did survive the war. But after the war they ended up in the zone that was controlled by the Soviets. They were able to escape before the wall was in place to keep people from doing so.

His family fled to Uruguay and then immigrated to Canada. As Bill told me this story, he had tears in his eyes. It broke my heart. In times of war, kids suffer most. War crushes all people, including the survivors, and the victors.

This story is replicated millions of times over. I just had the privilege to speak first hand with someone whose experience is beyond anything that I can imagine. There are more refugees right now than at any time in the entire history of the world. It should break our hearts and compel us to action. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Hopefully your kids will never have to risk their lives for a bag of potatoes.