He didn’t talk much about the past, but carried it around each day in a battered old cigar box.
Inside were the ribbons he earned during World War II and the photos of young men, wearing their confidence as surely as the stripes on their sleeves or the cock of their caps.
Some were of a mechanic, others of an airman, more were just the groups of strangers who quickly became his brothers, like so many found in the marches across Africa, up the boot of Italy or across the beaches of France.
Those pictures were guarded like diamonds, carried each day in the box held together more with tape and hope than paper and paste; too important to leave home, far too precious to trust with any other.
He’d just offer a shrug and slide worn-down hands across the battered box then tell you a story, usually one that would make him laugh and smile.
A member of the Greatest Generation; he might have enjoyed that moniker, but died long before folks started using it.
Instead, he had his memories, nightmares and scars.
You’ve never met this particular man. His life was lived several states away, but his story isn’t all that different from all too many who answered the nation’s call in times of conflict.
I got to thinking of him and others like him this last week when flag-waving reached its climax and I finally had a chance to finish Gen. Eisenhower’s book.
These men and women didn’t look at who was Republican or Democrat. They didn’t ask for a stimulus check. They definitely did not have the option of a crying room.
And, although their jibs would no doubt make the PC-trained person of 2020 pass out, they really did care more about what the fella beside them could do when the bullets started to fly than their color or creed.
They did not take to the streets chanting, swearing, vandalizing and stealing.
Instead, they did what the nation asked, knowing that might mean a lonely cross an ocean away from home.
Most still expect to be ignored despite the often devastating prices they paid.
But today’s their day – Veterans’ Day – it’s time to change that, time to say thank you to those men and women often forgotten by history.
They are right here in El Campo, in Louise, in Danevang, up in Garwood and over in Round Mott.
Veterans aren’t hard to spot. They tend to stand a little straighter than most folk, even when you know it’s got to hurt. They may wear fancy suits or not much more than rags, but it will be distinctive for the folds.
But all you really have to do is look them in the eyes, especially those who saw combat.
Do you really know the story of that bent old man you see everyday shuffling to the convenience store or staring out the window of the local nursing home wondering if he will ever get a visitor? What was he doing at 18 years old? The answer might surprise you.
It’s time to listen. Time to learn.
Today’s for the ones who made it home.
I, for one, am mighty glad they did and mighty thankful for the price they paid for the freedoms I enjoy.
Thank you sir. Thank you ma’am.
– Shannon Crabtree is editor & publisher of the El Campo Leader-News.