An Email from a friend

I friend sent me this in an email, and well, I think I need to post it, along with my reply to him.  The email:

On Sat, Jun 6, 2009 at 5:20 PM>

This is from another, very liberal, friend of mine who respect you guys and appreciates what you’re doing for us. I thought you might appreciate what he has to say.

> ———- Forwarded message ———- >
Subject: it’s good to be alive

Fifteen years ago today I was getting ready to paint the house of an  elderly guy here in town named Hoyt Warren. It was hot as the blazes and   before I got started he said, “You know, I don’t usually talk about this but   40 years ago today I was flying  a fighter plane over the beach at Normandy.   A few rounds went through my engine and it seized up. I was able to make it   back safely to land. Not everybody did.” Here was this grandfatherly looking  fellow bemusedly reminiscing about what was certainly one of the most   fateful days in American as well as world history. I know he did not view  himself as any sort of hero. To be honest, I don’t know if Mr. Warren is   still living. This “Greatest Generation” is dying off at a precipitous rate.  In the course of my work I meet all sorts of people from all walks of life  and I have been fortunate enough to have met some of these WWII vets and  they have been gracious enough to lift the veil a little. Another of my   customers, Mr. Armor, was just a country boy from north Alabama who was  drafted and spent four years in Europe fighting. He said he didn’t want to  go and considered the time he spent over there the only thing in his life he  regretted. He spoke of Regular Army guys taking his turn to recoiter because   they knew he was  green and didn’t know what he was doing and how sometimes   those guys never came back. He mentioned the displaced children he ran   across and would give chocolate or rations to and the guy who was killed  just next to him in his fox hole. Just this past Spring the thought of these  long past experiences brought tears to his eyes as he told me of it. Right   around the corner lives James Foy, the former Dean of Students at AU who was   shot down as a Navy pilot. All of them are white haired old men in the late   autumn of their lives who were witness to and participants in some of the most pivotal moments in history.

I always think of these folks and the ones who died as little more than  children themselves on the coast of France on June 6, 1944. I try to  remember to drop a line to my cyber friends and acquaintances to maybe   remind them too. My son is 18–the age of too many who died essentially   alone and scared and often calling out for a mother who may have been across  the ocean before they ever had a chance to really enjoy their lives. Thomas   and I plan to visit Normandy in July as we are going Over There for a couple   of weeks. I’ve never seen it in person. Hard to say what would have happened  had this assault failed but the world would be a very different place. We  have to all remember this day and these people–on both sides–who gave all  they had to give and endeavor to never let things fall into chaos like this   again. No one loves peace more than a soldier. Just a little bow of  gratitude from someone who reaped the benefits of their sacrifices. I hope  the day finds you all well.

My reply:

Wow, thanks for sending this. Always good to hear of people who appreciate what those who came before us went through. I had the luck of sitting through a screening of Saving Private Ryan with numerous veterans (most of Vietnam). It was really telling to watch them break out in tears as the first part of the movie, the storming of the beach, took place. Being a soldier myself and having deployed once before I saw this film, I even then could not imagine what it was like for them. Years with nothing more than a letter to show them anyone cared back in the world that must have seemed like an entire planet away from where they were. I realized then and there that I was part of a brotherhood that would cross generation, ethnic groups, and social standing. I have never forgotten that moment.

A few years later I was lucky enough to go to some training near Washington D.C and had the chance to visit the Vietnam War Memorial. Just seeing the names of all those who did not come home alive. It was an over powering experience and, though I am a tough mean Army guy, I cried. Why? God, I don’t know. The sheer weight of all those names, it hits you deep inside, even if you never cared about the war, their lives, or even known one of them. I know only one person who served in the insanity that was Vietnam and we usually try to avoid the topic, but something inside me gave that day. I think I it finally hit me that I am part of those guys that gave up some part of their lives to serve their nation. On the same trip I got to visit Arlington National Cemetery. I really wanted to see the Iwo Jima statue (The Marine Corps War Memorial)…that was until I got there. We saw it and then we headed over to the actual area the graves are. I was honestly overcome seeing all those crosses lined up in perfect rows. I really got choked up seeing all them. I had never ever thought or wanted to be buried there, always thinking it would be better to be buried back home with family. Now, I can say with all my heart, it would be an honor to rest there with my brothers, not sure I have done anything to warrant that respect though. That said, if I had the chance, I would want to lay there forever with them, shoulder to shoulder, soldier to soldier.

When I flew home for R&R a few weeks ago, we were met by many older folks at the airport who shook our hands, gave us phone cards and welcomed us home. Those guys (and gals) took a moment out of their busy lives to drive to the airport to stand in line and shake the hands of soldiers coming back from deployment. I tell you what, it really hit home then too, these people took time out of their lives to make sure that someone thanked me for my service in the first ten minutes that my feet were on home soil again. If you live in the Dallas area, you should do this once, just once, it is amazing the feeling of seeing those people standing there clapping and waving. Simply amazing. I very much appreciate everything they, and the thousands of volunteers, have done for us. Heck I had breakfast on my first day back and some gentlemen in Dallas bought our meal for us. Didn’t say a word, just did it, a silent thank you. They were young guys too, usual really as most people who step up to say something are most often the older generations. I used to walk past those funny little old guys who wear those hats that say “Korean” or “Vietnam Veteran” on it the front. Now when I past them, I really feel a strong urge to say thank you, sometimes I do, sometimes I admit, I don’t (I am the quiet type). Either way, I really feel a debt to those guys, those guys who had it terribly worse than I ever will. I am going to try to force myself to always say thank you for your service to those old guys when I get back. I get it now, I finally get it.

I laugh when people call me a hero or thank me for my service, HA! Me? Yeah right, I am just doing a job, nothing special here. There is no reason to shake my hand or tell me thank you. But I tell you what, I stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before me, and I will always call them my brothers and sisters. I fly a flag at my house every day, partially because my oldest daughter once asked me to long ago, but now I fly it for them, to remember them and their sacrifice so I can be free. To remember forever that I am part of something much larger than me, to remember this brotherhood that I have been lucky enough to be a part of.

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