Worth Revisiting Wednesday: A Tale of Two Soldiers

Given that this Veteran’s Day oh-so-conveniently falls on a Wednesday, I thought I’d try my first link-up with Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Allison at Reconciled to You. The following is a post I wrote a couple of years ago after visiting my husband’s stepfather, Ed, during one of our visits to Minnesota.

Ed has since passed away, but I continue to think of him on Veteran’s Day, along with other members of our family who have served in the armed forces. All three of my older boys’ namesakes served; one died in action in France just days before the end of World War I. My husband, my father, my grandfather, many of my uncles, cousins, and friends served. I grew up in an Army town and spent much of my young adulthood in a Navy town. I consider myself fortunate to have known and loved so many who have given of themselves in that way.

Today, I remember all of them. I thank, honor, and pray for them. And if you’ve served and sacrificed for our country in the armed forces, I do the same for you. Thank you.

~~~

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?

These Walls - A Tale of Two Soldiers

Who Will Be the Mr. Wintons of Tomorrow?

This is post 1 of my series of 7 posts in 7 days. All the time, I run across news articles or blog posts or radio segments that make me want to answer them aloud with my own take on the situation. So that’s what I’m doing this week. For each of these seven days, I’ll take a recent item (by someone much more original than myself) and I’ll comment on it. That’s it, but that’s something!

~~~

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times about Sir Nicholas Winton, who died on July 1st at the age of 106. I had vaguely recalled his story (if not his name), no doubt from something I once saw shared on Facebook. But this time, since the gentleman had just died, I paid closer attention.

Mr. Winton — Sir Nicholas in England since 2003, when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II — was a London stockbroker in December 1938 when, on an impulse, he canceled a Swiss skiing vacation and flew to Prague at the behest of a friend who was aiding refugees in the Sudetenland, the western region of Czechoslovakia that had just been annexed by Germany.

“Don’t bother to bring your skis,” the friend, Martin Blake, advised in a phone call.

By the time Mr. Winton returned to Britain a few weeks later, he’d had far from his originally-planned experience of relaxing on the slopes. No, Mr. Winton had put in motion efforts that would eventually lead to the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia.

Please do read the entire New York Times article – it’s an amazing story, beautifully told.

Just the bones of it would be enough to move most people: Man takes an impromptu trip, ends up saving 669 children from almost-certain death.

But then there’s: Man, with just a few volunteers (including his mother), works tirelessly to register children for transport, photograph them and advertise their photos to potential foster families, appeal for funds and provide his own, obtain and even forge documents, and ultimately do whatever it took, bribery included, to successfully arrange for eight trainloads of children to make their way from the dangers of pre-WWII Czechoslovakia to the safety of Great Britain.

And: Man, orchestrator of one of the greatest rescues of World War II, places all evidence of his work in the attic, never even bothering to bring it up to his wife.

After finding his long-hidden scrapbook — crammed with names, pictures, letters from families, travel documents and notes crediting his colleagues — his wife asked for an explanation. He gave her a general idea, but said he thought the papers had no value and suggested discarding them.

“You can’t throw those papers away,” she responded. “They are children’s lives.”

Amazing – the story is simply amazing. After it came to light in 1988, Mr. Winton received honors and praises from all corners. But more importantly, he connected with many of the children whose lives he had saved, and with some of their descendants, who now number more than 6,000.

Reading the New York Times article a couple of weeks ago, and then reading Mr. Winton’s obituary in The Economist yesterday morning, I was struck most by the fact that this man – this man who did an incredible thing, which ultimately allowed for the preservation and creation of thousands of lives – he was just a normal person.

Mr. Winton wasn’t a government official, he wasn’t an adventurer or a clergyman or an expert in the nonprofit sector – he was a stockbroker who decided to skip out on a ski trip. On his detour, he found people in need, so he helped them.

There was a job to be done, so he did it.

Why did he do it?

He never really explained, though he offered a bare rationale in an interview with The New York Times in 2001: “One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that. Why did I do it? Why do people do different things? Some people revel in taking risks, and some go through life taking no risks at all.”

That’s not much of an answer, but maybe he didn’t have one to give. After all, how would one answer the reverse of the question?

Why didn’t others do it?

Why, when Mr. Winston wrote to American governors, senators, and even President Roosevelt, would none of them do what he did? According to the piece in The Economist, “He could have rescued at least 2,000 more, he said later, if America had been willing to take any.”

Why didn’t others orchestrate similar efforts for Jewish children in other Eastern European countries? Why, when the British government organized transports for children from Germany and Austria, did they not do so for those elsewhere?

Why don’t we, when we learn of the six million Syrian refugees inside Syria and the 4 million outside it, act?

What makes some people look at a faraway, impossible-seeming situation and decide to do something about it, and others look and do nothing? Or worse, not look at all?

Given that I’ll soon be responsible, full-time, for four children under the age of six, I’m under no illusion that I can set up shop in the refugee camps of Turkey and Jordan and go about saving the world right then and there.

But having read Mr. Winton’s story, I think it’s time for me to stop assuming that I’m incapable of making a difference on those things that don’t necessarily “concern” me. What kind of a life would I be living if I never sought anything out, if I chose to only deal with the things that land neatly in my lap?

Who will be the Mr. Wintons of tomorrow? Could you or I be among them?

These Walls - Who Will be the Mr. Wintons of Tomorrow?

A Tale of Two Soldiers, Revisited

The following post is from this past July. To mark Veterans Day (and Ed’s 88th birthday tomorrow), I thought it was worth sharing again.

Thank you to all who have served and sacrificed for our country in the armed forces.

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?

A Tale of Two Soldiers

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?