I know a World War II veteran.
But the world doesn’t know him.
The very short version of his story (which he gave me persmission to share with you) is this:
During WW II he joined the armed forces to defend his country. He boarded a train to cross the entire country. He was by nature the shyest of any man ever born. But there, on the train, was a beautiful girl. He does not know how he came upon the nerve to do so but he found it, the nerve and the courage, to go talk to her. And he talked to her across the country. Literally. And he fell in love with her. And they married.
He trained for two years for specialized duty. And he went to war as part of the 10th Mountain Division.
And he fought.
During one battle the man with him was shot and killed. He was the only one who could operate or fix the weapons at hand. During this battle, right before his birthday, he was shot in the face.
Bullets. In. His. Face.
The battle was for Mt. Belvedere in Italy. Though he did not know anyone in the 442nd Division, referenced in this story by Koji D. Kanemoto, he knew of them as soon as I mentioned them. As soon as I read Mr. Kanemoto’s story I knew there was some connection. The 442nd did come in behind the 10th Mountain Division with support.
His Lieutenant held a rag to his face while he bled and continued on with his duty. They patched him up, never sending him on for further medical care.
He earned the Purple Heart and other medals that he proudly displays. And he still fits in to his uniform.
He still honors his country and is proud of what he did.
Now, he has today.
And today is not a good day for WW II veterans.
Remember the bullets in the face? That he was never treated for? He can’t breathe so the medical division of the VA tested him and said he can breathe through his mouth so he is not disabled. He deserves no compensation. And now, all of these years later, they tell him he should have had surgery “years and years” ago to repair his face….that part of him that breathes air in to his body. You know, to keep him alive. So he breathes through his mouth, without complaint, even when he is trying to eat and breathe at the same time and the end result is choking.
He doesn’t expect anything. And when I told him today that he should expect appreciation he said “that would nice to receive”. I shared with him “highest regards” from Mr. Kanemoto and he very humbly said “thank you very much”. And as always, I told him that I do appreciate him and his service, and even more-I appreciate the kind, humble and unassuming man he is. He said he appreciated me and wished he did feel appreciated.
I asked him of his Christmas plans and he said he mail ordered something for his adult son. And other than that he said “I have no Christmas spirit”. I did not know what to say. How could I “convince” him with mere words that I want for him to find comfort in this season. That I want for him, this kind and gentle man, to feel cared for and loved. To feel the appreciation for something he did willingly and I suspect he would do again. Without hesitation. Even knowing the end result. How do I tell him that who he is, and what he has done, matters to many?
I can’t tell him how I feel and assume many feel the same way.
But if any of you out there in the world want to express a Merry Christmas, or a Thank You, or any expression of comfort and joy to a man who served his country with dedication and loyalty, please feel free to share a message here and I will make sure he gets it.
And so you know. This man did not just serve his country by going to war. He served his country by returning from war, working hard to support his wife and child. He went to work. Paid his bills. Treated his community with respect and honor. He never asked for anything of anyone. He gave of himself to provide and to do. He would not expect or even accept a hand out.
But he just might accept a ‘thank you’.
Or a ‘you matter’.
Or a ‘you are not forgotten’.
Or a Merry Christmas.
He might be comforted by knowing the world hasn’t forgotten him.