...today I had the good fortune to meet some real heroes.
I spoke at a small town Veterans Day celebration today in St Peters, MO. I was amazed at the hundreds of vets whose hands I shook. They had served from World War 2 to the present. The one vet that was most unforgettable was an elderly gentleman that was tottering away from the event at the end; he was by himself and I just wanted to make sure I shook his hand and said thank you and good-bye.
When I walked over to him to tell him goodbye, he slowly looked up at me (he couldn’t have been much over 5 feet tall), deliberately eyed my rack of ribbons and then said: “I bet I’ve got one you don’t.” I smiled, laughed, and said “I’m sure you do”. Then I took a guess. “Is it from the Korean War?”—although he clearly looked old enough to have served in WW2, I didn’t want to insult him by over-estimating his age. He answered by taking a trembling hand and slowly reaching inside his jacket and into his shirt pocket. Then, he haltingly pulled out two ribbons I had never seen in my life. I took one and turned it over in my hand so I could read its front. I nearly hit the floor when I realized it was for landing on Omaha Beach during Operation Overlord. At first I was struck dumb. Then all I could think to do was say how honored I was to speak with him and simply say “thank you” to this living legend—a man who had survived D-Day.
Not knowing how to speak intelligently to a man that had already awed me so much, I simply said “it must have taken tremendous courage to step off that landing craft and into bad-guy country”. He looked at me and deadpanned, “I didn’t have much choice, the people in the back were pushing.” (It wasn’t until later that I thought, why were the guys in back pushing? If I was in back I’d be saying “no hurry, you guys take your time up there; I’m fine back here).
He then went on to say:
I wasn’t one of the first ones in, so we’d heard some chatter on the radio about how bad it was. We’d heard people were getting mowed down and some were even drowning as soon as they stepped off their landing craft. I’ve never liked water, so I was more worried about drowning than anything else. I was really pretty scared of drowning. As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem, when the front of our landing craft came down the bodies were piled so deep I was able to walk on them all the way to the beach.
In my lifetime, I have had a number of heroes. This man, stooped, trembling, and moving slowly, now towers above them all.
Join me in thanking this giant by taking full advantage of all the rights that he and other veterans have defended. Vote in every election; write letters to the editor of your local paper; volunteer your time for a worthy cause; fulfill your jury duty; be a volunteer fire fighter; mentor a child; represent your country well while abroad; live your life, and be a good American. By doing all these things, veterans will be proud to know their sacrifices were not in vain. This is the thanks Americans can give. Live your lives well, as productive citizens should.
Quoted with permission.