If we are lucky in life we not only meet characters who are different than ourselves, but characters who can teach us different things about life. About ourselves. By their existence and interactions with us we grow as human beings. We, in the most simple ways, become better human beings.
This is a very long read to honor a man I knew. I wrote these posts between December 2012 and September 2015. The original posts still exist if you would like to see some of the comments sent from around the world for him. Some private messages were given to him only.
I hope you enjoy meeting him.
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.
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.
In December I shared a short story about a veteran. I’ll refer to him as “Our Veteran“. I think we should feel possessive about men and women who put their lives on the line, literally, to defend us. Once he or she has served an entire country, I think the country should be dedicated to their well being.
So many of you have sent me messages and emails asking me how he’s doing.
He has had a rough winter.
Today when he saw me he hugged me, started to let go and hugged me again. The last time I was there he was too sick and concerned for my well being to hug me. Ever the gentleman.
He told me that the last time I was there, he didn’t think he was going to make it.
Today he was full of smiles. And still incredulous that people remember “him” and his fallen soldier brothers and friends. I took my Kindle with me so he could see the actual blog. He was so touched by all of the comments. He has them in print. But to be able to pull something up that anyone in the world can see, was kind of nice for him.
I went to see him today to share with him pictures that Koji found for him, and emailed to me. My coworker printed them up for me. And today I took them to him. As soon as I handed him the first picture he said “oh yes, oh my”. And we stepped back in to another time for him. I was so hoping that he would recognize someone. But the pictures themselves he could name every location of, and what was going on. His recall is sharp, his humor intact. We went through every single picture. And he knew them all. He couldn’t believe Koji would go to the trouble to find these for him.
He asked me to wait because he wanted to share something with me.
He went upstairs, with much more energy and zip, then he had on our last visit. He nearly ran back down the steps. And he was carrying three items. Two frames and one old scrapbook.
His WW II scrapbook. A very worn, important piece of history for him. An important piece of his life.
And he shared it, giving me permission to share some of it with you.
Because he is not just a soldier.
He is a son, a grandson, a father, a husband. He’s one of us. One of us who did something so many of his generation did. And still, so many of ours, do today. He sacrificed his freedom and put his life on the line.
This is the flower that greeted me at his front door.
The last of his flowers. He and his wife had a backyard full of roses.
Last year he had them all dug up. Due to his health decline he could not manage the flowerbeds.
And another part of his treasured world is gone.
Along with his most beloved treasure.
Here they are. So young. So happy. So full of everything yet to be lived.
So much joy. So much to do together.
No one’s hero.
A son. A grandson.
His grandfather and his father. What will they think of their boy in battle?
The grandparents in their Cadillac.
Maybe not Our Hero, yet. But her hero.
On their wedding day.
And off to training he goes.
Do they call it “hero training”?
He said this picture was after a climb, hike, trek, and training that lasted ‘forever’.
His clothes were nearly worn through, in a shambles, he said.
And either cleaning up after training.
Can you see him bobbing up out of the water?
Before the battles. With family.
His brother also served.
The sister and sister in law….waited.
Happily (see the smile) getting the GI hair cut.
At a time when he could.
Before the battles.
He must have been a good soldier.
Before he was a hero.
Here he is in a training film.
Better than Hollywood could create.
He. Is. Real.
Then they went to battle.
They liberated towns.
He lost friends.
His brothers in arms.
A part of making history.
He was one of them.
They trained for this.
Then he came home.
He noticed today, when we looked at this next picture…..
And I noticed when I looked.
Before he said a word.
He said “don’t I look like a scared kid”? And he chuckled.
I wanted to cry.
You can’t see his scars.
They are under his eye, on the left side of his nose.
Where the bullets went in to his face.
And make it impossible for him to breath the ‘free’ air he fought for.
Look at his face.
Imagine what those eyes saw.
And when he went home…..
He got right to work.
Cleaning up his wife’s family home.
Because it needed done.
And this is what men like him did.
And continued doing what had to be done.
This is a corner of his front door.
This was his compensation.
He wears it with honor.
In the same uniform he wore as a soldier.
He remains a soldier.
But it doesn’t help him breathe.
This, is our reward.
Thank you, everyone, for asking about him. Praying for him.
And making him feel important and valued.
That, is his reward.
It helps him breathe.
Our Veteran Has Gone
His battle is over.
His war has ended.
And now he’s gone.
One more soldier.
One more old man.
One more willing to sacrifice.
And now he’s gone.
He has gone where roses bloom.
I have never earned the right to salute.
But I can cry.
And I am.
Goodnight sweet man.
Earlier this year I attended a funeral for a World War II veteran. I knew from having talked with him over the years that he wanted a full military funeral. Not because he loved war, or what war represents. But because he answered the call that was put out to the world when tyranny and horror were being inflicted on innocent people. He was not a cavalier or prideful man. He was kind, soft hearted and willing to fight to protect. He wasn’t a fighter by nature. But he did fight because he believed he was needed. And he was proud of having done so because he believed in what he needed to do.
I never heard him speak arrogantly, or with any sense of entitlement. He was humble. He was hard working. He was as average as you and I. And yet he did something extraordinary.
His life was good. He was grateful for everything he had. He was grateful for everything he did.
There was gratitude in his heart for being able to serve America, serve the world, and survive it. Even being shot in the face, he survived.
I attended his funeral fully prepared for the military service. It was wonderful to see the friends and family who attended. The motorcycle club of veterans who rode up to honor him with their flags and their military salute. When the uniformed officer stood in the doorway of the vestibule I had tears knowing how much this would mean to our veteran.
When the service was over I waited for the 21 Gun Salute. But people were leaving. I asked when the 21 Gun Salute would be. I was told there would not be one. They didn’t have the people to perform it. I was heart broken. I knew he wanted this. I knew it didn’t matter to him. But to me, it mattered for him.
It has weighed heavily upon me ever since.
I don’t own a gun. So I couldn’t even go and give him my own private 21 Gun Salute. Or I would have. All I really have is thoughts and ideas. So in my very humblest way possible, I am giving him a 21 Gun Salute right here.
I looked up a little bit of information. I know that seven rifles are used and there are three volleys shot. So I drew seven different types of rifles. I tried to model my drawings after some of the World War II guns. My apologies for inaccuracies. Each gun is drawn individually. Each gun is drawn in memory of a kind and gentle man who only carried a gun to defend others.
It’s a small tribute to someone who was willing to sacrifice for many.