Husband and I left early. Our car loaded with gifts and food. On our way to his house I said “I bet you he says to wait and he will go upstairs and get his uniform”. The same uniform he has had for decades. The one he has earned the honor to wear. The uniform he treats with respect and care. I expected him to share it with us. Every time I took someone new to see him he would show it to the new person. Like he did with me on my first visit with him and his wife.
In the seat behind me was a stack of special gifts from around the world. Words of thanks and comfort, and well wishes for one of the men who stood between us and hell during World War II.
When I spoke with him yesterday to arrange my visit he said he has a terrible cold and wouldn’t want to risk me getting it. I told him I could wait and visit when he felt better. He said he wanted to see me. I told him I was willing to visit and risk his cold. He said he didn’t want me to get sick. I told him I could leave him some things on his porch and come back later to visit. He said “but then I won’t get to see you!”
I was smiling at his contradictions.
I told him I would come up, I would come in, and I would not get sick. I promised him. He said “then I would love to see you!”
So we went on our way.
He let us in with his kind and gentle manner. He isn’t feeling well. He has injuries from the war that they didn’t fix for him when he was younger and healthier. Now he has injuries from a car accident that can’t be repaired with surgery because of his health. He had been sitting and relaxing with a sweater pulled on from the front, just to keep warm while he sat. I don’t think he was surprised that I had an armful of gifts. But he wasn’t expecting what we (all of you and I) did for him.
I asked him if he recalled me asking his permission to write about him a few weeks ago. He said yes. I told him that people responded. He wasn’t sure what to expect or where I was going with my comments.
The first gift I gave him hails from a man who honors and respects veterans, his father, and his family’s history. He sent me a private message and asked if he sent me gifts for “my veteran” would I make sure to get them to him. Of course! I explained the gift giver’s story to “my veteran”. He carefully opened the package.
Nestled inside was a hat with the 10th Mountain Division’s insignia on it. A patch of the division’s insignia that could be sewn on to a jacket. He was pleasantly surprised. Then he pulled out the flag. He opened it and we held it open. He was disbelieving. He said he has been looking for one, and wanting one, but would not spend the money on getting himself one. He looked at that flag over and over again. As I unfolded it he read what would be printed on it, and he was accurate. Knowing the words and having lived them.
I handed him the little pile of cards that people had thoughtfully gotten, and written messages in, for him. We sat while he read through each one. And often times I had to look at Husband because the warrior seemed close to tears. Looking more the hero to me for the humble gratitude that he accepted the gifts.
Softly he said “so they do remember”.
Then I gave him a binder with the story of the 10th Mountain Division European Conflict. We paged through it. He told me about Mt. Belvedere, Riva Ridge and the Po Valley. He laughed when I told him the children call my Husband “Po”. He noticed the maps in the accounting of the war. I told him if he didn’t want to read what he had lived through I understood. He said no, he was very glad to have it.
I gave him the box holding the scrap book that I put together of the words of blessings and love and thanks sent to him by all of you. I explained the comments sent to him came from around the world. Again we flipped through the pages. Looking at all of the comments. He is so proud of what he did for his country and yet so humble and soft spoken about it.
If I could I would put in to words right here what it felt like to watch this man. This man who stood among other giants of men amidst the horrors of war. To see the emotion in his eyes, as he read the kind words and prayers being sent to him. We sat quietly in that room as voices from around the world spoke softly to him from the pages and the cards.
He said again “well they haven’t forgotten, I’ll be darned.”
When we went through everything and I picked up the trash he stood up and said “let me go upstairs and get my uniform”. I shared a laugh with him and told him I had told Husband he would share it with us. Because it is a privilege to see the armour of a warrior.
He came downstairs and held it with care.
The bars representing the six major battles he participated in. The majority after he was shot in the face.
The Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation given to his division.
The badge of his regiment.
The Purple Heart.
The Bronze Star.
The Good Conduct Metal.
He was trying to not get close to me because he was afraid of making me sick. I asked him if we could take the pictures and share them with everyone who sent him the nice words. He said “of course of course”. He said he wanted to hug me, very much. But he would not allow himself to because he was so scared he would make me sick. A gentleman. I promised him that I would return with any more words sent for him and hug him when he is not ill. He smiled and said he would really like that.
We wished one another Merry Christmas. I told him we all want for him to know we appreciate him and many many people want him to know we have not forgotten him and those he served with.
“I’ll be darned. This was really something.”
Not nearly enough sir.
(Military personnel please forgive me if I misused any terms identifying divisions/units/regiments. I’m not sure of the difference.)
A huge “thank you” to every single one of you who sent a kind message for him. They were enclosed in the scrap book and he looks forward to reading them all. He was truly grateful that he is not forgotten.
He smiled. A lot.
And for that I thank every single one of you.