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 but also for those Friday, Saturday and Sunday weekend 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. So here is a thank you to my uncles from the Greatest Generation.

Uncle Julian Nutt who 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 Navel Vessel.

Uncle Donald Loveless who 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 only allow him to re-enlist as a Marine MP. He wrote to my dad that being a Marine MP was the best job he ever had because instead of getting in trouble for fighting he was now getting paid to break up fights in bars.

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. Uncle Donald was chosen to represent the Marines of Iwo Jima. I am told that there is a photo of Uncle Donald standing guard at the door for the Allied Commanders.

Years after the war, Uncle Donald was laying in a hospital bed, unconscious due to a brain aneurism. My mom and my aunts took turns sitting by his bed side. Suddenly he sat up. He began speaking as if someone was at the foot of his bed but no one was there. He spoke about not being a nice person and 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 those 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 was not very nice and I only had 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 who was a Merchant Marine guarding supply ships that 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. Uncle 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.

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. Since that day I have always remembered that I’m blessed to be married to  my wife.

Buddy taught me an 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 blowing 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 how to do it right. He told me to exhale, suck in as much as possible and then hold my breath as long as I could. Needless to say the trees started to spin and I was sick. Uncle Buddy laughed and said, “You’ll remember that kid.” I never touched another cigarette. Thank you Uncle Buddy.

One morning Uncle Buddy told his wife, Aunt Matte Bell that he needed bananas because Donald wanted some for his breakfast cereal. Uncle Buddy hated bananas but Uncle Donald always had bananas with his cereal. 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 that man was going to live. “Don’t worry about me. I’m not walking 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.

Uncle Irvine Daniels who survived D-Day, was visiting my mom when I arrived home from college. Standing in the middle of the kitchen eating a raw potato, suddenly Uncle Irvine asked me point blank about 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. “When you face death life changes. It becomes more alive.” I realized I was out matched. 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.

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.

© 2015, VoiceWind. . .Greg Loveless. All rights reserved.

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