I may have posted this story I wrote last year, but I feel it is appropriate to post it up again, considering it is Veterans day tomorrow. Also since I wrote it, something happened a few months later that I will add to the end.
Thank You for your service!
My daughter rolled her eyes! Not again she thought. My step quickened, not wanting the target to get a way. She knew where this was going and reluctantly followed along. It was kind of embarrassing, walking up to people you did not know and shaking their hand. But this was somehow different. Just before the tally was rang, I out stretched my hand and asked the young mother if I could shake her hand. She was a bit surprised, but shook my hand. "Thank you for your service" I said! Would you please allow me to pay for this for you? It was not a lot, just a few household items. I paid for them, and thanked her again. I said this is the least I could do!
We sat listening to the radio on the way home. As always my daughter was in charge of the channel selection. Then she reached up and turned the radio off and asked me why I always made a point of shaking the hand of anyone in uniform. A quick answer would have been in order at any other time but it was D Day, it was somehow different. I pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. And I began telling her a couple of stories to explain what I was thinking each time I shook the hand of one of Americas finest!
I had just finished installing the alarm for this older couple. The husband and I had been talking during this time and I had found out he had been a prisoner during WWII. As he signed the paperwork I had for him, he asked if I had a minute to listen to a story? Sure I said! His wife came over and sat down at the small kitchen table with us. Four hours later, with tears in my eyes, the wife and I stood up and went to the door. She shook my hand and told me she had never heard any of what her husband had just told me.
He was still at the table, exhausted from telling the two of us the story of his capture and imprisonment. I too was exhausted, and in awe at what I had just heard. He had been in the Philippines when the Japanese had attacked. He had walked the many miles that was the Baton Death march. He had been in prison camps in the Philippines and in Japan. Starvation and torture were his everyday companions. In a coal mine in Japan, an American citizen and prison guard, would sneak his small group of six some food each day, keeping them alive. But this same guard would sometimes have to beat them. The guard was really a prisoner himself, having been caught visiting his grandparents just as hostilities began.
It was a story of coming out of the mine and seeing planes flying over and hearing the bombs hitting the city close to the mine. And one day the guards were different somehow. A couple of days later, as they came up out of the mine, they saw a flash and figured the "Fly Boys" had hit an ammo dump. The next day, the guards were gone. Too scared and weakened the prisoners stayed at the camp for nearly a week before a British army unit came and told them the war was over. Many of his friends had died during that week where they had no food or water. It was a story of coming back to Japan and testifying in war crimes trials to save the American Prison guard who had saved them.
Another day, as I was installing an alarm, I lifted the hatch to the attic. Right next to the opening I found a couple of pistols that had obviously been there for a long time. Green fuzz was piled high on all the exposed brass on the holsters. I told the older homeowner that having the pistols in the attic was not really the best place for them. She told me they must be her husbands and asked if I could take them down and get rid of them for her. She did not want them in the home. I offered to buy them and did so! I did not pay much, but she was happy to have them gone.
A few months later, I got a call from a man who said he was the son of the lady I had bought the pistols from. He proceeded to tell me a story about his father and one of the guns. His father had also been captured in the Philippines, and had been on the Baton Death March. Years later, on a visit to the Philippians, long after the war, his father, happened to come across a gun store or someone selling guns. Anyway, he was looking at the guns assembled there. Most were guns from the war. It was then he saw the .45 cal 1911, just like he had been carrying on the day of his capture. He picked it up and held it. He turned it over and out of habit, cleared the gun, too make sure it was not loaded. That's when he thought he saw it. Looking closer, there could be no doubt, his initials were still visible where he had scratched them on the slide, those many years ago.
It took a lot of paperwork to get the gun back to the States and into his hands. It took the help of some old war buddies and a senator or two. But soon the two old warriors were together again. I did not give the son a chance to ask, but instead I got his address, and drove three hours and delivered it to him. He wanted to pay me for it, and had the money right there, but I would not take it. I told him the gun had traveled far and was where it should be. Heck, I did not like shooting it anyway!
I was in another attic a few years later and drilled through a wire, causing sparks to fly everywhere. Luckily, it was in a good spot to repair. I came down and went into the room where the wire was feeding an outlet, to check my repair. As I entered the room, I could not help but notice all the WWII pictures and memorabilia. All the pictures and stuff was about VMF 214. I knew what that was! I watched TV. They were the Black Sheep Squadron.
The man had left shortly after I had got to the house. I quickly went to the wife and asked her if her husband had been a member of the Black Sheep. Yes, she said, he was. Pappy Boyington, the leader of the Black Sheep, had just died, and her husband would be talking on the radio about his experiences in about an hour she said. I quickly finished my work and together, his wife and I sat at the kitchen table and listened to him.
He talked about how young he was and about how they had tried to send him back to the states. But he was of age now and he stayed and flew with the Black Sheep. He was not with them long before he was shot down. As he was coming down onto a beach, after bailing out of his stricken plane, a Japanese soldier came out of the jungle and bayonetted him as he fell. He was able to shoot the soldier, and was soon rescued by a Catalina! A flying boat.
Like many of the soldiers back then, before he was rescued, he gathered a few things from the soldier he had just killed. There was a flag and the bayonet and a small note book. He spent nearly a year in the hospital recovering from his wounds. The items were displayed in the room I had just been in his wife told me. During a break-in at the house, this stuff was taken, and thus the reason I was there.
I have installed many alarms for our nation's heroes. Some have been "Flying Tigers" or "Black Sheep." Some will talk about their experiences and others will not. They all seem to have an "air" of confidence about them. I guess combat has instilled that. This does not mean that they do not shed tears when recalling what they went through. And all the hard stuff they go through is not always on the battle field.
One day, not so long ago, I entered a home to check an alarm to make sure it was working properly. The owner was in uniform, and there was a lot of gear by the door. I figured he was getting ready to deploy. He showed me what he was concerned about and then he went to work, sewing some patches on some of his gear and such. I could tell he was in a hurry, but I had to keep asking him some questions.
I was not the only one asking him questions. His 12 year old daughter was also asking him questions. But her questions were obviously those asked by a daughter who knew that the next day her father was leaving. I could tell she was scared and trying to soak up as much of her father's attention as the time would allow. I have to say that it was the hardest thing I have ever been a part of. I just could not imagine what was going through both the fathers mind and the daughters. As I was leaving, the father led me to the door and I thanked him for his service. Both of us had tears in our eyes! I told him I was sorry he had to leave his daughter, but was thankful there were soldiers like him willing to go and keep us all free.
My daughter reached over and gave me a hug as I finished telling her this story. I hoped she did not think I was weak for the tears in my eyes. I hoped she understood the reason I went out of my way each chance that I get to thank the soldiers I am lucky enough to run into. I hope that that father I met that day before he deployed, came home to his family in one piece, and was able to hug his daughter as I was hugging mine!
A few months after writing this story I drove into the school parking lot to pick up my daughter from cheer practice. There was a soldier in uniform waiting for her daughter with a group of other moms. As always I jumped from the truck and headed towards the soldier. But before I could ask to shake her hand she asked if she could shake mine! It caught me by surprise, I was a little confused by what had just happened. Then she explained that when she had first arrived, my daughter saw her and ran over and shook her hand and thanked her for her service. Then several of the other girls did the same. Wow!! Proud can just not explain what I was feeling right then!