11 November 2011
Honor and Gratitude
A very simple image for a very simple message: Thank You.
I took this image this summer while in downtown St. Louis admiring a military display in front of Soldier's Memorial. On days like this, I think of two relatives that actively served in Vietnam and WWII.
My uncle flew helicopters just above the jungle trees. His job was to drop flares so the jets could more easily find their targets. I never thought much of this as a young boy. I asked one day only to find his helicopter was unescorted and unarmed!
I also think back to my grandfather in WWII. Stationed in Italy as a P-51D pilot, he logged hours in the cockpit of almost every fighter or bomber the US used in the European theater. I hope I never lose his stories. At one extreme he would tell me about finding God as he flew home, alone, over German occupied territory after watching his wingman get shot down. He described that as "white-knuckle flying at it's finest and the longest 3 hours of my life." The other extreme would be a story about lying awake with the boys using their handguns to shoot rats off the roof of the tents. One hand held a flashlight, the other held the pistol. The story wrapped with "There are always consequences to your actions. If you shot at rats, the next morning you patched the roof in the cold."
But, most of all, I remember a story a friend handed me one day at work. The story was of a man that never saw a day of action in WWII because he served as a POW the entire time. Oh, how I wish you could read that story of service and sacrifice. This man was captured off the coast of a tiny island in the Pacific and watched the planes fly overhead en route to bomb Pearl Harbor (he later found out). He spent most of the next four years in the hull of a ship eating spoiled rice, being spat and urinated upon, and packed in with another 200 men like sardines. However, there was a lot of time during the four years he was able to serve as a slave to the Japanese, wishing he was back in the hull of that boat. While serving as a slave, he also saw the B-29s fly overhead en route to Hiroshima. He said he always felt ashamed by his time of duty because he never saw action and never felt like a hero. Well, let me tell you, he is definitely a hero....yet no one knows him....because of his humility.
All three of these men are heroes. And, many, many more like them. If you see one today, please make the effort to thank them. They all have stories. All you have to do is ask.