The coffin is mounted on a wagon that is hitched up to a tractor. Several soldiers salute as a final gesture of respect. The procession consists of just a few people trudging through the muddy cemetery.
Most of the mourners look down into the open pit. Someone makes a comment about how in the countryside, eternal resting places are larger than the ones in the city. “There’s space to roll around and scratch your back,” someone jokes. “Look, the body returns to this home in the ground so there’s no point of building mansions,” agrees the small crowd.
We are in Miheșu de Câmpie, at the funeral for Dumitru Șomlea, the Dean of War Veterans in Mureș. There are no TV cameras here.
If Dumitru’s life wasn’t newsworthy, then why would his death be? For as long as he lived, Șomlea never sought compassion from anyone. He carried his age with dignity.
The only thing he complained about was the fact that his wife passed away too soon, in 1988. And that God had allowed him to spend too many years without her on this earth.
In February, he had turned 103 and he spent his last days in a residence for seniors.
In 2014, before Christmas, the video blogger Mihai Zmenta paid him a visit. At the end of the discussion, the senior, who was then bed-ridden, tried to kiss Mihai’s hand. Mihai pulled it away, embarrassed.
“Night and day, you are in my prayers and I wish you many happy days with your siblings, with your parents and with your relatives,” said Dumitru Șomlea when they departed.
The film closes with an image of the war veteran’s pension statement: 252 RON per month. This is the value of six years of wearing military clothing and battling in Moldova and in Oarba de Mureș.
He often remembered his fellow soldiers. The German and the Russian allies who had only one thing in common: “They would both put the Romanians on the front lines and order us to advance.”
“My entire cloak was covered in bullets. Yet those bullets never pierced my skin because I would pray to God, ‘Sweet Father, God, please protect me from this attack!’”
At the Prut River, Antonescu shouted, “Romanian soldiers, cross the Prut, I command you!” The Russians on the opposite shore, seeing that the Romanians were crossing, took advantage and fired. They shot all of the Romanians. The water turned red.
We were fighting against the Germans in Oarba. 11,000 comrades died. Soldiers were constantly replacing them as they fell on the front lines, being sent up to destroy the enemy lines there on the crest of the hill.”
Dumitru was nursed with the milk of war. He was born on February 13, 1914, just a few months before the world’s first conflagration. He liked to say that this was the year when the heavens went to war and Satan was thrown down to the earth.
He would soon learn the cruelty of the war for both infantry and aviation units. He joined the army in 1939 in Cluj and was placed into the aviation unit. He was advanced to the title of platoon sergeant when he turned 100.
There are very few veterans from his generation that are still alive. In 2015, there were still 415 in Mureș and now there are only 160. Their average age is about 95.
Sergiu Colceriu, Commander of the Târgu-Mureș Garrison is present at the funeral. He knew Șomlea and, in the last three years, was present for all of his birthday gatherings. Șomlea would light up like a child when he would see his young military friends. He remained lucid and took his contagious optimism with him to the grave.
“I hate to say this but I have never witnessed this exuberant optimism in today’s youth.
People like him should have been invited to speak in schools all over Romania to talk to the students. These kinds of programs no longer exist, but their health also doesn’t really permit it at this point.
They loved their country in a fierce way, leaving no room for doubts. This love was real, authentic, not for the purpose of showing off,” says the Major.
Dumitru’s granddaughter, Valeria, evokes images of her grandfather through her tears. She says Dumitru took the place of her late father.
“From the moment I was born until now, he was my rock. Do you understand? He was always there, while I was going through difficult times and while I was going through good times.
Dad died when I was very young and my grandfather took on the role of father in my life. We had a very close and deep relationship.
There’s a verse from a Persian poem: “Birds may die but you’ll always remember their flight.” He was a great man who put his heart into everything he did: in his work, in his faith and in his joy. He loved everyone and everything, from his neighbor whom he greeted every morning to the country that he served.
He was curious and current events always interested him. We could talk about Angela Merkel and about the fact that Romanian soldiers did not have it easy whether they had the Germans as allies or when they took up arms against the Germans.
This wise man wanted to know everything that was going on in this country. With him perishes a generation that accomplished many things and suffered many things. With him, a wise and honest generation of people perish.”
God called Dumitru Șomlea home on September 16. 73 years ago, this was the day he began fighting alongside his comrades in Oarba de Mureș.