It is Veterans Day, the 11th day of the 11th Month, a time we remember those who sacrificed in service to our Nation. So I write this, as a thank you to my uncles, part of the greatest generation, whose service and sacrifice allows me and my family to enjoy the freedoms we have.
To my Uncles, who have long since passed on, I also want to thank you not only for your service to our great country but also for those Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings when we got together as an extended family, and for the stories you shared. I learned much about how life really works listening to you on those weekend nights.
All these many years later there is still one story that sticks with me.
One of my uncles told a story about a fellow soldier. I no longer remember what the story was about. What I do remember is what happened after they all stopped laughing. One of my uncles asked, "What does he do now?" This question was a normal response and the answer was something like "He's a plumber", "He's an electrician", "He owns his own business", etc. But on this occasion my uncle telling the story did not answer. Instead he lowered his head and shook his head back and forth like he was saying “No”. My other uncles lowered their heads. There was a moment of silence. Then one of my uncles said, "I'm sure he was a great soldier." My uncle who had told the story nodded his head yes and said, "He was, he was a great soldier." Then the conversation continued as they shared more stories.
After my uncles had headed home and the house was quiet I asked my dad why they got quiet after the one story. "When they don't answer and they shake their head “No” that means he didn't make it back. He was killed in action."
So in memory of those who did not make it back, and to those who did and who told their stories, here is a thank you to my uncles from the Greatest Generation.
Uncle Julian Nutt:
Uncle Julian flew bombing missions over Europe. If I remember the story correctly, Julian’s plane was so badly shot up on one mission, they had to ditch it in the English Channel. He was rescued by a British Naval Vessel.
Uncle Irvine Daniels:
Uncle Irvine, who survived D-Day, was visiting my mom when I arrived home from college one weekend. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, eating a raw potato, suddenly Uncle Irvine asked me point blank about the meaning of death.
“You’re an educated college boy. What’s the meaning of death?”
As I flashed back through all my college philosophy and theology courses I struggled to answer. Uncle Irvine shot back that he and his buddies discussed death minutes before they landed on the beach on D-Day.
Then he said, “The meaning of death is when you face death life changes. It becomes more alive.”
It was then that I realized I was totally out gunned. I was speaking to someone who had faced death and walked away to talk about it. I realized Uncle Irvine had a wisdom I did not have. Thank you Uncle Irvine for that humbling moment. I never again read another philosophy, theology or history book the same way after that conversation.
Uncle Donald Loveless:
Uncle Donald was a platoon leader at Iwo Jima. Donald was a gung-ho leader and expected the best from his men even in the most trying situations. A few months after the battle of Iwo Jima Donald went to re-enlist but the Marine Corp would not allow him to re-enlist. You see Donald was so gung-ho about winning he was taking too many risks and putting his men in danger. The only way the Marines would allow Uncle Donald to re-enlist was if he became a Marine MP.
Months later after he re-enlisted as a Marine MP Donald wrote to my dad that being a Marine MP was the best job he ever had. Instead of getting in trouble for fighting in bars he was now getting paid to break up fights in bars. It was his dream job.
Family lore has it that when General Douglas MacArthur set up the signing of the terms of surrender by Japan on the USS Missouri he made sure there was a representative from every branch of the military from every country that fought with the United State in the Pacific theater. Uncle Donald was chosen to represent the Marines of Iwo Jima. There is a photo of Uncle Donald standing guard at the door where the Allied Commanders entered onto the deck of the USS Missouri.
Even during the war Uncle Donald suffered from debilitating headaches. Several years after the war, during one of his headache episodes, Donald passed out. He was taken to the hospital. The diagnoses was a brain aneurism. At that time, in the 1950’s there was nothing they could do. My mom and my aunts took turns sitting by his bed side as he laid there unconscious for days.
Then suddenly one afternoon he sat up. He began speaking as if someone was at the foot of his bed but no one was there. He said something about not being a nice person. He said from that moment forward he would do what was right. Then he laid back down and a few seconds later regained consciousness. After the doctors checked him and left the room the family members who were present when he sat up and talked asked if he remembered it. Donald’s response, “Yes, I was speaking to Jesus. He told me I’ve not been very nice and I only have a little more time left.” My mom said Uncle Donald was a completely different person after that day. He would do anything for anyone. A year later, to the day, Donald died from that aneurism.
I never knew Uncle Donald personally as he died when I was very young. But our family shared his story and accomplishments with pride. Through this, though not present in the body, he was present in spirit. I came to understand who Uncle Donald was through his brothers, my Uncle Buddy and my Dad, so it was like I knew him as a friend.
Uncle Charles “Buddy” Loveless:
Uncle Buddy was a Merchant Marine who guarded supply ships as they made the trip from the USA to Europe to resupply the Allied Forces. On one mission across the Atlantic Uncle Buddy’s ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sank. Buddy floated for two days and two nights in a life raft before he was rescued by another US Convoy passing through.
Uncle Buddy was known for his quick wit. He also spoke his mind. I remember someone asking him why he sometimes said obnoxious things. I remember him saying something to the effect that when you have to survive in a life raft, in the middle of the Atlantic, it is better to be precise and understood and live than to be nice and die.
A case in point is when I was dating my wife we came home from college one weekend and Uncle Buddy was visiting my parents. I introduced Linda to him. His comment, “She’s too pretty for you.” That was not nice, but true nonetheless. In those words it was as if Uncle Buddy was speaking to me all the way from a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Since that day I have always remembered that I’m blessed to be married to my wife.
Buddy taught me a very important lesson about cigarettes. One summer evening Uncle Buddy was grabbing a quick smoke by the kitchen screen door. Neither of my parents smoked so Uncle Buddy, who wanted to stay in the conversation, was standing inside by the kitchen door so he could hear the conversation and then he would blow his smoke out through the screen door. When he finished his smoke he opened the screen door and flipped his cigarette outside. Curious, as a 10 year old, I went out and picked it up to try it. After all, I thought my uncles were cool so it must be OK to smoke. Uncle Buddy saw me, came outside, and told me he would show me the right way to smoke a cigarette. He told me to exhale. Then he told me to suck in as much air as possible through the cigarette. Then he told me to hold my breath as long as I could. Needless to say the trees started to spin and I started to feel sick. I exhaled and started coughing. Uncle Buddy laughed and said, “You’ll remember that kid.” I never touched another cigarette. Thank you Uncle Buddy.
Later in his life one morning Uncle Buddy told his wife, Aunt Matte Bell, that he needed bananas for his cereal. What was interesting about that is Buddy didn't like bananas. It was Uncle Donald who liked bananas on his cereal. When Aunt Matte Bell reminded Buddy of that his response was, "There not for me, they’re for Uncle Donald." The only problem, Donald had passed away years before.
That night Buddy had a heart attack. When he arrived at the Hospital he told the nurse to work on the man next to him because he had been told that man was going to live. “Don’t worry about me. I’m not going to walk out of here. But it’s OK, my brother is here to take me home.” Buddy died a few minutes later. The man next to him lived.
So here’s a huge thank you to these men who sacrificed to serve our Nation. Thank you for the wisdom you shared with a young boy on those weekend nights that changed his life.
And to the millions more men and women who have sacrificed serving our Nation, Thank You.
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