Chandler King was the first veteran I ever heard talk about his time in the service. He was in the Navy. And he was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He came to our second grade class in 1954 and quietly explained how these Japanese planes appeared out of nowhere and started dropping bombs all over the place.
None of us had ever heard of Pearl Harbor. Mr. King didn’t look like a sailor; he was not wearing a uniform. And I began to have some doubts when he got to talking about how the water was burning from the oil spilling out of the ships. Plus, “Pearl Harbor” seemed more like a name out of a story book than a real place.
Mr. King talked about the noise and confusion. He helped carry hurt people to the hospital. And he told us about this one ship that got blown apart and sank quickly to the bottom of the harbor.
He never mentioned that 2,403 people died that fateful morning. I guess he figured there were some things second graders didn’t need to know.
We saw a lot of World War I Veterans every November 11. We would get out of class and march out to the flag pole in front of the high school gym. It didn’t matter how cold or cloudy, rain or shine….
The old soldiers, some in uniform, had brought along a small cannon. At exactly 11 a.m. they would fire it off—the sound still echoes through my mind till this day—and the high school band would immediately break into the Star Spangled Banner.
What I remember most was how every one of those old soldiers snapped to attention on the first note. I’m telling you, they stood ramrod straight! Many saluted. It was like they knew something about the National Anthem that the rest of us didn’t!
I also remember as my elementary years slipped into high school, there were less and less of these magnificent warriors each November. Time also takes its toll. I never thanked a one of them.
Dad was a veteran. U. S. Army. He spent over two years in the South Pacific. He never talked about it. Oh, he might mention the train ride across Australia, the natives in New Guinea or the incessant rain on Biak Island.
But he never said a word about battles or death or fear or loneliness or what runs through your mind when bullets are whizzing past and bombs are bursting overhead. Mom said he went on eight major invasions, including the Philippines.
I did ask him once about those bronze arrowheads, stars and multi-colored ribbons on his old Eisenhower jacket. He said, “Son, everyone over there got those.”
I met Mr. Bryan Roberts thirty years ago at a family reunion in Ashland, Kentucky. It wasn’t my family; I was just trying to “fit in” so they’d pass the chicken and dumplings down my way. “Uncle” Bryan stood a half inch over five feet. Pretty easy to overlook…..until someone mentioned he flew across the English Channel in a glider plane on June 6, 1944.
Let me refresh your memory. Those gliders were made out of the lightest wood that could be found. No motor. No GPS. No homing devices. Their “landing strip” would be the well guarded hedge rows, flooded fields, ditches and thick patches of woods in Normandy, France.
The moment the glider unhooked from the towing plane, the only result possible was a crash landing in German controlled territory…..
It was a rough way to be introduced to the Third Reich!
Uncle Bryan was as humble and polite as anyone I’ve ever spoken with. He laughed as he told me “they” were looking for smaller, light weight guys, “That’s how I got the job.” He laughed again about the crash landing, “It was a little more than we bargained for.”
When I pressed him some about his role on D-Day, his response was “Just doing my job.”
That is unquestionably the American Veterans’ Mantra.
But don’t let their easy manner or polite banter fool you. They have “stood in the gap” and proven themselves a thousand times over from Bunker Hill to Afghanistan!
I spent this Veterans Day thinking about Chandler King, those old World War I guys at school, Dad, Bryan Roberts, Johnny Linton, David Colbert, Buck Watford and every other veteran that has ever crossed my path.
You talk about a debt I can never repay…..