Remembering Our Heroes: Two Nameless Soldiers
Taking the Time to Remember
Life passes us all by at lightning speed. Between work, family, friends, school, email, phone, and all of the various activities we all find ourselves involved in some times its hard to remember and appreciate the things that our friends and families have done for us. Its even harder to find the time to really think about and appreciate what those we have never met have done for us. Many people have given their very lives so that we could be where we are today. This is the story, as I remember it, of two such men whose story should be shared and remembered for the sacrifices they made.
As a child it always seemed like my mother was dragging me somewhere an adventurous little boy would find boring. Sure some places had random toys or few a children oriented magazines, but these things would do little to keep my less than complacent imagination at bay for more than a few minutes. Clothing stores always had the cool racks I could hide in, and scare ladies as they shopped. Unfortunately, my mother would tend to nip that in the bud rather quickly... Something about acting civilized and not leaving her eyesight. Looking back I can say with some confidence that my mother probably hating taking me anywhere without a handful of toys.
When I was eight years old I experienced one such occasion. I distinctly remember a large fairly crowded waiting area, but I can't seem to remember exactly where we were. It seems like it was an auto repair establishment. I believe I can only remember the waiting area because my older brother and I were bored out of our minds. I remember it being a rather large plain room with hard chairs, a few small tables with random well thumbed magazines, and a dirty old coffee machine sputtering to itself. It was a typical waiting room. Fortunately, I was able to con my poor mother in to hauling around a couple of my G. I. Joe guys in her purse. Unfortunately, my brother was too cool for G. I. Joes by then so I guess he remained bored.
Two elderly men entered the waiting area where we were sitting. Because the room was near capacity the two men came and sat down directly across from my mother, brother, and myself. The first of the older gentlemen seemed to kind of guide the other one to his seat. I didn't think much of this at the time as this was but a small interruption to my own small world of make believe. However, the first of the gentlemen smiled at me and watched me play with my toys. The other man who seemed much thinner and frail sat and stared blankly at nothing.
Thinking no more of it I disappeared back in to my imagination and my small action figures. However, I would quickly be pulled away from my imagination as sharp human groan sounded through the quiet conversations and various other back ground noises. Looking up I realized that the sound had come from the frailer looking old man. I also realized that I wasn't the only one that had noticed, as from around the room the man was receiving strange glances as he continued letting out unintelligible grunts and groans.
Of course children being children my older brother and I could barely stifle our giggles. Our mother scolded us, but as with many young boys we still giggled to ourselves. The other old man almost seemed to not notice the stares from those around him. If he did they didn't seem to bother him. He looked down at me and said, “Are you playing army men?”
In a shy manner I replied, “Yeah.”
Looking at the small action figure in my hand he said, “That looks like a paratrooper.”
Shocked that the man recognized my toy I said, “Yeah! He's a World War 2 paratrooper! How did you know?”
He smiled at me kindly and began conversing with my mother. It wasn't a conversation of great significance just the general friendly questions about us kids, the weather, etc. Seeing that this man was kind and friendly my brother blurted out, “Hey mister, what's wrong with your friend?”
I thought my mother was going to explode, but the man however turned and smiled kindly at my brother. He remained silent for a moment with a thoughtful expression on his face. When he continued to speak, what he had to say would forever change the way I thought about a great many things. I would help me to understand the true meaning of friendship and what it was to help those close to you. It would make me truly realize the sacrifices made by the men and woman who give their lives in service for our country. Even at my young age I realized the magnitude of this man's story, and even though I couldn't tell you either of those men's names, I will never forget their story.
His gazed passed over the three of us silently and he said, “We served together in World War Two. We were both in the same unit together. We went through a lot of battles together. He took care of me. He said he would help me get home. He saved my life three times while friends and comrades died all around us. I survived to make it home, but he took a bullet in the head. They said he was one of the lucky ones...” He made a sarcastic chuckle, “but hes been like this ever since.”
He was silent for a moment staring at his friend. I found my gaze staring at the man too. It was hard to believe that this frail old man had been not only an American soldier in one of the greatest campaigns known to man, but had been shot in the head and though severely damaged was alive. It was a lot to process for my young mind, but listening to his friend speak and looking in to his eyes I knew it wasn't a lie.
After a moment the man continued, “After the war we both got to come home to our wives. His wife couldn't handle it though. I guess after all those years of waiting for her man to come home, and to see him come home like this... it was just too much for her. She left him. After all he had done for me I couldn't leave him to be alone in some hospital. He was the only reason I was able to get home. I brought him to live with my family. My wife couldn't handle it either though. The constant care was too much. She didn't understand how I couldn't just leave him alone, and finally she took my kids and left me. That was over thirty years ago. I've been taking care of him ever since.”
The man's eyes were wet with tears as he finished his story. My mother smiled at him weakly and said, “I'm sorry to hear that. You are a good man.”
He smiled back, “Well I don't know about all of that, but I don't regret any of it. I wouldn't be here to day without the man sitting beside me, and I'd never leave him all alone.”
As I listened to this man's accounting of his life, I realized the magnitude of the sacrifices both of these men had made not only for their country but for each other. Today I do not know if these men are still alive, and I know little else about them. I honestly don't know if my mother or brother would even remember this random encounter, but for me it made an everlasting impression. These two men represent the true definition of the word 'hero'.
They are not alone. There are many other brave men and women, some living some dead, some young and some old, that have given up their lives and all that they hold dear so that the rest of us could be hear to live in this land of freedom and opportunity. The least we can do is occasionally remember them, and when given the opportunity, thank them for all they've done for us.
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