When I was twenty years old, I ate lunch at a table filled with men in their eighties and nineties. The man beside me could hear very little, spoke much too loud, and sprayed like a fire hose with every word—and he was one of the most charming men I have ever met, still possessing all the suavity of the brash young airman he had once been. The man across from me could hear even less, but he sat quietly for the most part, his sweet wife taking up his part in the conversation. Down the table a little ways were a group of veterans who talked and laughed as boisterously as if they were sitting in a mess hall instead of a country club.
They spoke of brave friends they had lost and brave enemies they had fought. They reminisced fondly of the Tuskegee Airmen, the fanciest-flying guardian angels they had ever met. They told stories of landing a helicopter in the river to wash blood from the floor, then coming up with a farfetched explanation for their superiors as to why there were fish in the flooded floor compartments.
I spent six months transcribing these men’s oral histories, along with many other World War II veterans. Of all the stories I have read in my life, few have impacted me as powerfully as theirs. Too often in school, we spend all our time learning about dates and names of battlefields and which country was allied with which others—but we forget the men and women who did impossibly brave things without thinking twice because that was simply what was required of them.
Never forget. Never forget the sacrifices they made. Never forget why they fought, what they were willing to give their lives for. Remember, and be grateful for the blessings of freedom and opportunity that we so often take for granted.