I looked up to them all, and most of them are gone now.
There were two of my Sunday School teachers: Mr. Muirhead, who had served in World War II and when asked about it, told a group of seven-year-olds, “Well, they pushed us, and we pushed them back.” And Fred Howard, who served in the same conflict in the Army Air Corps, and recalled being on a bombing mission with flak bursting everywhere around his plane; and when he was sure he was going to die any moment, he looked out the window and swore he saw the figure of Jesus, floating on a cloud, protecting them.
And there was Bill, veteran of World War I who sat out in front of Stop & Shop in Orange, wearing a blazer, a tie and grey trousers, and selling forget-me-nots. He coughed a lot, and told me that “We were in the trenches when the Germans threw the gas at us. And I didn’t have a gas mask.” And so it was that Bill gave up his health while serving under his Country’s flag.
And I recall my Scoutmaster Conroy Taylor, who was fighting the Japanese on board a ship that was hit by a bomb while he was manning an anti-aircraft gun. He was blown from his gun position, and fell ten feet onto the steel deck, landing face-first and losing several teeth.
My Grandpa Shine never spoke of the horrors he had seen while flying a Spad in World War I; neither would his son–my father–until his final years. Our family always knew that dad had fought with the hope that his children would never have to fight. Dad’s reminders of his time in World War II were a Bronze Star and a pair of frostbitten feet, which were marked for life.
Cousin John Shine was a Huey pilot over Vietnam, and modestly told the story of evacuating the wounded under heavy fire in a grossly overloaded craft, and escaping the “hot” landing zone at treetop level, as they were hit repeatedly by small arms fire. That episode earned him one of two Distinguished Flying Crosses. And there was Uncle Ed, who was a medic in Korea and earned a Silver Star, but never spoke of the reason to his family.
Since the days of my youth, most of these men have passed away; but meanwhile there have been many others, some much younger than me, who have served this nation selflessly. Among them, I count one of my Eagle Scouts, an infantry sergeant named Sean, Veteran of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. For I watched him grow up, and today, he is one more of the men I look up to. They’re all a special breed, you know.
“Lest We Forget:” On Nov. 11, we pause to remember all those veterans, past and present, who believed in something bigger than themselves, and chose to fight for the Freedoms that we cherish and abuse. Our thanks be unto them.