Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans... A True Blessing

Back in May, I posted the following article on The Barn Door, after a visit with my aunt and uncle. It worked perfectly for the upcoming Memorial Day, so I thought how appropriate for Veteran's Day as well. I have modified it just a little bit, and added one more "thank you" to the end of this post. Regardless,  recognizing our veterans any time of year is most important. You will see in the first half of this post, a most precious conversation. I hope you enjoy it, as well as the pictures and memories...

Good Company, Conversation, Memories, and Blessings

I love good company. Getting to sit and visit, laugh, talk about the Lord and all He has done for you, it's just good stuff. I got to do just that not too long ago when my Aunt Jylonda and Uncle Mark came for a visit. Having house guests is fun. Not only do we get to visit, but we also get to go out to eat. It was while out for breakfast on their last day with me that our morning took a small turn. A turn that would give us all a warm heart, but also some precious memories.

It was as we sat finishing our breakfast, the plates cleared from the table, and we were just chatting and drinking coffee, that he came walking past and took a table behind us. His gait was slow. He was older and frail looking. Large, dark glasses on his weathered face, to protect his eyesight. Over-sized jacket worn to protect against the chill. And perched on his head of white, thinning hair was a cap that read, "World War II Veteran."

Mark, sitting with me, is a Disabled American Veteran (that's what his hat says). He served in the Army and is very astute at making sure to thank other veterans, regardless of age, for serving our country. Having had both of my grandfathers serve in WWII, my cousin serve in Afghanistan, and a friend of my son also serve and to come back with many injuries as well, I know how important it is to make sure these Vets know that their service is greatly appreciated. However, the knot in my throat had constricted my voice other than to whisper to Mark, "Did you see the hat on the man behind us?"

"Yes. I'm very aware of him."

Then Jylonda says, "I wonder if he knew Grandpa?" So she grabbed her coffee mug, stood up and turned around. The ensuing conversation was priceless:

(L) Mark, (C) Jylonda, (R) Mr. Mosley

Jylonda: "Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I noticed your hat. You served in World War Two?"

Instantly his face lit up. "Yes, I did."

Jylonda: "Are you from West Frankfort?"

Veteran: "Yes, I am."

Jylonda: "Maybe you knew my father. His name was Roy Gardner. He had a heating and air business here in town."

Again, recognition lit his weathered face. "Yes I did! My name is Mosley. I had a plumbing business here for many years."

Jylonda: "Oh, okay! I remember that. Well, my father also served in World War Two. He was in the Army Air Force. I noticed your hat and I wanted to tell you thank you for your service and what you did for our country."

In an instant the atmosphere changed. Surprise, wonder, and humbleness crossed his weathered features. Then Mr. Mosley spoke very quietly, "Well... I appreciate you stopping to tell me that. I really do."

Notice the untouched breakfast.

By this time his breakfast had arrived, yet it remained untouched as he continued to talk with Jylonda. Mark had turned in his chair and was listening intently to the conversation, too. I decided to get up and capture this moment in time.

Jylonda: "If you don't mind my asking, where did you serve?"

Mr. Mosley: "Well, I was in the Philippines when "The Bomb" dropped, you see. Then I served in the Special Forces in Japan..."

He spoke so softly that it was difficult to understand him at times and some of the conversation was lost on my part, but not the importance. Here we were in the presence of a special individual. There is no amount of guessing that could possibly render even a minute imagining of what this man saw. Yet, he served. And were he to be asked to serve again, I'm sure that he would do it with his whole heart.

I had a previous encounter a couple of weeks prior, with a Veteran of Viet Nam. Listening to him tell as much as he was willing to divulge, including "Everyone came back changed. In more ways than you know." I knew that there were secrets that not even his closest relative would ever be privy to. Just as with our present WWII veteran. Just as with my two grandfathers, Roy Gardner and John Volanski, who both almost never spoke of their service. 

Pvt. Roy Gardner
My grandpa Roy, whom my aunt was speaking about, served in the Army Air Corp in WWII. He was in the 445th bomb group. (This group was begun by the Army and later became the US Air Force in 1949.) Grandpa's unit participated in many major battles, including Battle of the Bulge. He was a mechanic, but also a waistgunner. But what I always thought was very cool was that Grandpa's Commanding Officer was none other than actor Jimmy Stewart! I heard him tell a few stories about Jimmy Stewart in my childhood days, but whenever we would ask him questions about his service, his entire demeanor would change. The smile would leave his face and his eyes would take a faraway look. Then sadness would replace the sparkle that was usually always present.

Pvt John "Farmer" Volanski

My grandpa Johnny (known as "Farmer" to his buddies) served in the Marines. He was a private. He ,too, had been in the Philippines, but he also did something with a "big gun" as I used to call it. Pictures of him standing with ribbons of massive bullets draped to his chest make me wonder exactly what he did and saw. I found his address on a photo album with all his war pictures and this is what it says: "Pvt John Volanski, Btry. "A" 2nd Spl Wea BN, Camp Elliott, San Diego Calif." This grandpa would not divulge any information to his grandchildren when asked about what he did. All we could get out of him was, "The Marines are the toughest branch of the military! They're hard on you and they make you hard!" Then he would remind us to "take care of your feet!" I think I have a pretty good idea why he was the way he was.

Now, many years later, here we were in a restaurant speaking with a Veteran who also gave just a tiny bit of information. I don't think it was because he "forgot." Because I really don't think one can forget something as life-changing as serving in times of war. But the fact that mere strangers took notice and took the time to say thank you was life-changing all in itself.

Grandpa Roy (far R), with 2 buddies 1944
(We didn't have names for the buddies)

We left our precious Veteran to finish his breakfast, to which he made sure that our interruption was "no bother" to him whatsoever. What a blessing we got that day!

Grandpa Johnny (far L) with his buddies
Myslajek (center), and Millis (far R)
(I believe the year was 1942)
Whether a Veteran, or even just a stranger on the street, the importance of stopping and taking the time to speak to someone is more important sometimes than you may realize. You brighten someones day. You give someone hope. You help someone find their purpose in life. Whether they are young and just beginning their journey, or are older and coming to the end of theirs, the attention and love you show someone could just let them know that they have not been forgotten.

*Addition to this post*
Butch with his older sister, Erin
I mentioned above that my cousin, Eric (I call him Butch), also served in Afghanistan. He was with the Army-Missouri National Guard, 1141st Engineer Company (Sapper). Fortunately, he returned home unharmed physically. But just as my grandfathers never spoke of the things they saw in combat, neither does Eric speak much of the things he experienced.

He lost a few friends during his deployment in Afghanistan. I cannot imagine the things he saw, felt, or experienced. Nor can I imagine what my grandfathers experienced. But my respect for them, along with my sense of awe only grows.

Handsome guy

We celebrate Veteran's Day only once a year... officially. However, I believe it should be Veteran's Day year-round. They gave up a lot to make sure that our freedom is secure. Freedom is definitely NOT free. Someone had to sacrifice. Our veterans did. Whether in the past or present, our men and women in the military are sacrificing to serve those of us here at home. 

So...Grandpa Johnny, Grandpa Roy, "Butch,"...and all my friends who are veterans... Thank You.


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