“Farewell-His Own Man-But-Like So Many Others”
Tom Brokaw called them the best and the brightest…the “Greatest Generation”.
We lost one this week.
He was an individual, a free spirit, a thinker, a creator. He was small, wiry, tough, courageous.
He joined the army before high school graduation. He went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then to Fort Benning.
He was a soldier who decided to become part of the newly formed Glider Brigade. He became a paratrooper, because he was a leader, he was young, he was fearless, and he would be paid more.
At age 22, he jumped into the middle of the night over Normandy. As planes were being shot out of the sky, men were dying in the air, and as they hit the ground.
Spread across the French farmland, no one knew where they were, how many made it, how many perished. All they knew was the gunfire and fear all around them.
Fires everywhere, the anguish of death, the movement along the hedges, the gunfire, and the total chaos..
He survived the first night, as groups of the 101st and 81st came together. He would be wounded twice in fire fights. From medics tents and then hospitals, he would always wind up going back to the front and the fighting.
He would fight for months in places named Bastogne, Cherborg, St Lo and Sainte-mere-Eglise. Names on a map, that meant nothing more the next objective.
It would be 50-years later, upon his return, that he would see where the slaughter took place on Omaha Beach. And then as he walked thru the Bayeux Cemetary, and the one at Colleville, the enormity, of what he experienced, hit home.
His life spared in Europe, took him to the Pacific.
He jumped again, into the Phillippines, into the mountains, then into New Guineau. Search and destroy missions in the horrors of the heat, the hate of the Japanese, and the understanding, they had to win here, so they could get ready to jump there, in Japan.
He survived months of jungle warfare and horrid living conditions to get the job done. He was preparing to move to the third theatre, when they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kobe and ended it all.
He was no different than anyone else. A college teacher, a high school dropout, an auto mechanic, a baker. All walks of life, all ethnic backgrounds, all living in the same hell, hoping to survive, rather than be buried in a green bag in a hole on some foreign soil.
They came home, and never spoke of the killings they took part in. Kids were told never to bring it up. They never made it a conversation, unless they were with their buddies at some military reunion, remembering those who never came back.
They came back to jobs, colleges, sweethearts, careers and families. They put thoughts of Okinawa, Guam, the Ardennes Forest, Buchenwald and places like that in the back of their memory bank.
It’s only now we think of them, and what they went thru, when we bury them.
They weren’t ‘soldiers of fortune’ seeking fame or fortune. They were Americans, GI-Joe’s, doing what was expected of them back home.
We lost a good one this week, and there are not many of them left.
My god-father has left us at age 94. Taking with him silent memories, longtime friendships from a couple of those paratroopers still alive, who jumped with him.
We are left with his bronze star for heroism, the purple hearts, the combat medals, and the memory of a life very well lived, after his past life was stored away in hand written memoirs in a bank deposit box.
My dad was a fighting sea-bee taking sniper fire at age 22 on the islands in Japan while building run-ways.
9-uncles went and fought. 1-died at Bataan, 1-in a B-17 over Regensberg. A third badly wounded at Anzio. 1-came home from the Pacific theatre never ever the same again, his life and career forever impacted.
I buried another at age 99 last fall, a tank commander, who survived Kasserine Pass and El Alamein in North Africa.
And now I will lay to rest the last of the family, who never forgot Normandy, the ones he jumped with, those who died, those who survived.
I say farewell in a military funeral tomorrow.
For this day I forever remember the greatness and the courage he displayed in 1944 and 1945, so we could enjoy what we have today in 2017.
He was his own man, but he was like so many others of that era. Truly part of the ‘Greatest Generation’.