Some may have heard this story, but for those who haven’t, it is one of the most moving moments of my life.
In the spring of 2006, we made plans for my Mom and Dad to visit us in Cincinnati for Kim’s Spring Break. We then would drive over to Gettysburg–somewhere I had never been but wanted to go, and then on to Washington D.C.–somewhere my parents had always wanted to go. We were a bit apprehensive as Dad was turning 80 the next week, and couldn’t walk long distances without losing his breath. We arranged to borrow a wheelchair from our church and my goal was to push my Dad all over DC.
I had been to DC 2 times before, and knew the spots that would be most impacting for our short visit including arranging for a tour of the Capital with my parents’ Arkansas Congressman’s office, planning out the tour of the Smithsonian, and a highlight for me–a nighttime tour of the Memorials.
Our first day in DC we toured Arlington National Cemetery, which with its rows upon rows of markers moves me. We watched from the side as they changed the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Kim has a picture of me with my Dad in the wheelchair that is especially moving.
That night we went for the night tour of the Memorials. We were all tired–especially Dad, but he was a trooper. It was slightly raining as we made our way around DC that night on a bus. We sat near the rear door as we had to get Dad’s wheelchair on and off at the stops. It was at the FDR memorial that this exchange began between Dad and me, as we were headed back from to the bus.
Dad said, “You know, I got a letter from him once.”
I said, “You did? I didn’t know that. What did it say,”
Dad said, “Greetings and salutations. Your friends and countrymen have selected you for service in the armed forces of the United States of America.”
I laughed. Dad was drafted into the army in 1944 at the age of 18 after his birthday in April. He wanted the Navy, but was assigned the army as most were those days. He did graduate high school–a remarkable feat for those days. He went off to boot camp in September 1944, and in December set sail for the Philippines. While in the Pacific Campaign, he caught malaria in the Philippines, served in the army of occupation in Japan after the war. He was in the Philippines when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He returned to the states in December of 1946, a 20-year-old man. He told me he wished he’s taken the GI Bill from the army and gone on to college, but he didn’t want to go to more school. Biggest mistake he made, he always said. He went on to work in factories for years, before getting on with the Arkansas State Highway Department in 1979. He retired in 1992 at the age of 66, getting his 15 years in with the state thanks to his 2 year service.
Dad never really shared much of his army experience with me. It was either a time he forgot, or a time he prayed he would forget. Every now and then, something would be said on tv about some city across the country, and Dad would pipe up with, “I was in the army with an old boy from Evansville, Indiana.” As I reflect now, how about a crash course in growing up for a bunch of 18-21 year old boys from all across the country, ripped away from everything they’ve ever known and set to fight a war across the world for securing the freedoms we don’t even know we have.
Back to the story, we went on board the bus, and I was still laughing about the letter Dad received from FDR. I told the bus driver as we got on that Dad had once got a letter from FDR. Just as surprised as I was, Dad also told him what it said. The bus driver laughed along with us. He asked if we’d seen the new WWII Memorial in DC, and I replied that we hadn’t and we were looking forward to it.
As we neared the last stop at the WWII memorial, the driver was on the PA announcing where we were and when we would need to reboard as usual. This time he added something a little different.
He said, “Folks, we are here at our newest memorial, dedicated to all the men and women who fought in the biggest global war of all time, WWII. We are privileged to have on board tonight at least one man who was called to duty and went overseas to fight for our country.”
What happened next still gives me goosebumps. From the back of the bus, someone started to clap. It then spread through the rest of the bus until everyone was clapping for my Dad, and our country.
I leaned into Dad and said, “They’re clapping for you, Dad.”
Always the one to deflect praise, he said, “Aw, no.”
As the people exited, several stopped to say thanks to Dad for his service.
We went off and enjoyed the beautiful new memorial to those who served in WWII.
On this Veterans’ Day, hug a veteran. Make them know how much you appreciate their service to country and to you. Dad passed away on June 15, 2006, just a few weeks after this trip. Oh how thankful I am for our week together again.
Thanks to all the Veterans who are serving, have served, and have passed on.