I have a Veteran’s Day story. Sit back, hold on, and enjoy the ride.
About 10 years ago I was in France. I was eating dinner with an elderly couple. We were talking about all sorts of things. Most of all, this man was telling about his upbringing. His parents were French. He was born German, not because his parents moved to Germany, but because he was born at a time when Germany had taken possession of that part of France. After the liberation of France at the end of WWII he was again French. It’s a life that I could not even begin to imagine.
As this man was telling me his story, I was amazed at some of the atrocities that he had witnessed. I was devastated by the inhumanity of some people at that time. I just couldn’t imagine.
When the opportunity arose, I shared a story about my grandfather. Grandpa served in the Navy in World War II. He spent a lot of time in Europe. I don’t know if I consider it one of my life’s regrets, but some days I really wish I had talked more to Grandpa about his experiences in the war. On the other hand, I know that Grandpa had nightmares and awful memories of the war his entire life. I’m glad that I didn’t make him have to relive any of those.
In talking with this man in France, I shared that my grandpa landed at Normandy. I don’t believe he was there on D-day, but he was there for the second wave delivering fresh troops for the continuing surge. He had stories of deciding to put his helmet on when he started to hear bullets flying past his head.
My other grandfather was also in WWII and I believe he played a more supportive role in the Pacific, which was also a tremendous sacrifice and necessary for the war efforts.
So I told this man about my grandfather’s service and I will never forget his response. He looked me straight in the eye. His eyes started to fill with tears and he said very seriously, “Tell your grandfather, ‘thank you'”. I don’t know that I had ever seen anyone so grateful in my life. And it was weird because he was grateful to a man that he had never met.
Two things impressed me about that experience. First, I had never had such personal experience with a life changing situations caused by the war. Of course I knew that the war was a big deal, but actually speaking with someone whose life it affected was an amazing experience.
Second, after having felt how passionate this man was about telling a war veteran ‘thank you’, I felt compelled to share that with any veterans that I met. While I am very familiar with the stakes of WWII and feel that we were fighting a just cause, I am not so familiar with current wars and I’m not always sure that they are great causes. But regardless of the war, I am grateful for the soldiers that are willing to sacrifice their safety in order to serve their country. I am grateful for the freedoms that I have and I’m grateful that I don’t have to speak German.
Today I want to say thank you to all of the veterans who have proudly served the country to protect the freedoms that I so often take for granted.