by dave ammenheuser
The call came in the middle of a night in January 1991.
The familiar male voice on the other line told me that I wouldn’t be hearing from him for a while. It was a special code that I had with my brother, Sgt. Robert Ammenheuser of the United States Army.
I knew it meant within the next 24 hours that the Gulf War was about to begin. As a chemical detection specialist, he would be on the front line. Soon, thereafter, the war began in Iraq. There were several tough, sleepless nights until I heard from him again and knew that he was safe and that he’d be returning to Thurmont soon.
Robert “Bob” Ammenheuser is my hero. Not only for his heroic duty during that war but also for his actions during the past year.
Although we’ve spent much of our adult lives in different states, often separated by hundreds and hundreds of miles, we always knew we could count on each other when the other needed help.
That was never more apparent than in the last year. When my father died in September 2020, my first call was to Bob. He had a much closer relationship with Dad than I did. It was a very difficult conversation.
When our mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and she didn’t want to spend another minute in a rehabilitation home last fall, Bob and his wife Emily quickly volunteered to care for Mom in her final months. She died in December.
Over the past year, Bob’s been at my side as we cleared our parents’ Creagerstown home. It’s our childhood home, built in 1969 when Bob was 1 and I was 7. The same home that still has the residue from the NERF basketball hoop that hung on the family room closet, where as a young teen I’d play on my knees against my younger brother; the same backyard where I taught my younger brother to play baseball, forcing him to bat right-handed and throw right-handed and ignoring the fact that he was naturally left-handed.
The same home where we spent countless nights over the past year sorting through our parents’ collections and belongings, repairing vintage cars, and catching up on our lives.
It hasn’t been easy. Bob had the uncanny timing to always show when Mother Nature was at her worst: temperatures plummeting below freezing, blinding rainstorms. Those were not exactly ideal times to be outside repairing a 1963 Thunderbird.
Since returning from the war, Bob has lived in Maryland, Alabama, and now in Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Maryland, South Carolina, Connecticut, California, Tennessee, Virginia, and now Delaware.
Our parents’ deaths brought us together again. Face to face. Side by side.
As we close this chapter of our lives, it’s a good bet that we spent more time together in the past year than we will together the rest of our lives.
That’s tough to digest.
But I know he’s only a phone call—or these days, a text—away, and we’ll always be there for each other. And our brotherly love no longer needs coded messages.
Dave and Bob Ammenheuser with their mother, Liz, in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1991.
Bob Ammenheuser as an infant.
Bob Ammenheuser working on his father’s 1963 Thunderbird earlier this year.