Following my recent post “Millions Remembered”, I heard from one of the gentlemen of the email chain I am privileged to have become part of – one of the group of ol’ high school chums who include a number of men of valor and true patriots. Randall Wisdom is a special yet unmet friend and his emails are always sure to provoke my thoughts and bring a smile. It seems only appropriate on this Flag Day 2015 – and it is with his permission – that I share some of his writing here. The beauty of these writings is that they are so personal and so vivid in sharing how both sides of a family have been touched so deeply and eternally by the service, valor, and generosity of its sons. And so, with gratitude for his insights and his friendship, I give you the heartfelt and patriotic messages of my buddy “Wiz”. Fly those flags up high, Y’all.
Gonna Lay Down My Burden
You must have noticed them. True, their numbers dwindle by the day; but, if you’ll look beyond your mundane doings, you can yet spot a few in public places.
They are our country’s rapidly vanishing WWII veterans. They are the same young lads who in their early, carefree years went off to a distant hell. Those remaining are apt to be frail, and likely they will be a little deaf. I often find myself drawn to them in restaurants and in grocery stores; and, I am always tempted to invite a brief conversation.
I have grown quite astute in recognizing the subtle clues that identify them. A baseball cap which boasts, “United States Marines,” or, “USS Lexington” is a door into the past, left ajar. The old gentlemen never fail to welcome my intrusion, never minding their equally elderly spouses, or their somewhat younger daughters who are, no doubt, more anxious to leave.
The simple question, “Sir, are you a WWII veteran” … washes pride over their weathered faces. They are apt to quickly and efficiently brief as to their outfit and the theaters of operation in which they served.
They may gaze off into the distance, momentarily, as though trying to focus on the blurred images of some distant place. Sometimes, I imagine that I can see melancholy dew glistening from the corners of their eyes. Never do they speak of pain or horrors suffered … except, perhaps, to lament, “We lost an awful lot of good boys.”
When the war broke out, the Wisdom boys signed up, and each went his separate way; they would not to be reunited until the angry war beast had had its fill. Providence mercifully allowed all of them to return, and without any visible scars.
It is Dad’s younger brother, Forrest, who has been causing me a mental itch, and who has, posthumously, prompted this penning.
Forrest Wisdom was a kind and gentle man, and a man who personified dignity and manly meekness. He was a quiet man, given to old fashion ideas of chivalry and decency. He was from that generation of men who stood when a lady entered the room, and removed his hat to be introduced. Nothing in his being bespoke roughness or callousness.
For many years, he was the administrator of a large nursing home; and, God have mercy on the family … or the nurse …or the doctor that treated one of his clients unkindly. That he was a man of few words seemed not to take advantage of his rich, baritone voice.
My Uncle Forrest returned home after the war, and he never spoke of it … never … not to his brothers, not to his friends … not even to his wife. Never.
When I was a young boy, one day he showed me a German luger that he’d brought home as a “souvenir.” No story accompanied the showing. It was just a gun.
Just a few years ago, Forrest gave up the fight. The small church in Beebe, Arkansas was overflowed with folks who understood that his life was worthy of celebration. But the happenings which followed were both revealing and sobering. The pastor took his place at the lectern, and his remarks were. indeed, remarkable.
The minister began by addressing the family, customary, but not with such raw words as were these. He opened by asserting that he knew much about Forrest that was unknown to others. The room filled with a mournful befuddlement.
The preacher had spent many private hours with my uncle during his final days … hours of ministry … and of prayer … and, so it seemed, of a long-delayed unburdening of the spirit.
Forrest had confided with his pastor the unspeakable horror of Omaha Beach, and having survived that, the nightmare that was the push through France … and across Germany … all the way to Berlin, where he had collected that luger. He spoke of friends who had been turned to crimson vapor beside him … and of the brutality of Europe’s coldest winter of the twentieth century.
He had witnessed terrible happenings, and he needed reassurance that he himself had not done terrible things, as well. Over the span of hours, my uncle expressed an agony that was greater even than that of his terminal cancer. He put down a horrendous burden that he’d carried buried deep within his core of kindness and decency for more than sixty years. He had, at last, laid down his burden, never to, “study war, no more,”
If we could know what burdens these men often take with them to their graves, I suppose we would bring more … and stronger pall bearers.
And, For Jan…
Ted, I enjoyed your writing of, “Millions Remembered.” For my bride of 54 years, Memorial Day is both a proud and a morose time.
My wife’s dad died six weeks before her birth. He had forgone his scholarship in engineering at Miss. State, convinced that a coming war was inevitable. My wife’s teen-aged mom pinned on his flight wings just days after Pearl Harbor. On that same day, Germany declared war on the United States.
Jan’s dad was a P-40 fighter pilot. He flew off into eternity in an air battle with the Luftwaffe on April 18, 1943.
That day has been remembered as the, “Palm Sunday Massacre.
Germany’s ground forces were being compressed in north Africa by the Brits moving westward out of Egypt … and the newly arrived Americans advancing from Africa’s west.
The Germans undertook a massive egress, hoping to reorganize in Sicily. American and British fighters interdicted that tactical retreat.
On that day 58 JU-52 carriers, and 16 Messerschmitt escort fighters were destroyed. The allies lost only six fighter aircraft … a commendable ratio as judged by the economics of war. But, one of those lost was the father of my yet unborn wife.
For families, the concept of, “acceptable losses” is meaningless … cold, and inane.
In war, the losses are reckoned ultimately, not by the hundreds, or the thousands … but, by the ones. Every combatant downed is the most important person to someone.
Thanks for remembering the many who have secured the country that we now tend to take for granted.