I live in a small town and always enjoy going to the post office. I always encounter an acquaintance or two and have the opportunity to catch up and pass the time.
Sometimes, I meet people I do not know and we exchange the normal small-town courtesies, such as, “It’s a beautiful day to be out and about!”
A few years ago on a cold December morning, I made my daily trip to the post office. An elderly man was there retrieving his mail.
He was dressed in a flannel jacket, and I could tell he was a jovial fellow by his smile and the way he walked.
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As we passed in the foyer, I said, “Good morning, sir. It’s sure a cold one today!”
He replied, “Yes, it sure is, but I’m not near as cold as I was 66 years ago on this day.”
I thought about this a few seconds and then replied, “You served in the Battle of the Bulge, didn’t you?”
A big smile crossed his face.
He replied, “I sure did! I’m surprised a fellow your age would know!”
I explained that I read a lot of history and knew that the Battle of the Bulge was in December, 1944. In my reading and having the opportunity to talk to a few veterans, one thing that always stood out was the cold.
One veteran told me, “This was the coldest I have ever been in my life. I will never forget it. I saw many men that just could not take it, and it was not so much the battle as it was the constant cold.”
I wished I could have spent time with this man at the post office to hear the stories.
He may not have shared them. Many veterans are reluctant to talk about their experiences. Sometimes, it is out of a sense of humility (they never viewed themselves as doing anything special, yet they did) and sometimes I think they just don’t want to recall.
I can only imagine what they saw, what they felt, and what they went through.
They knew they were there until the war was over. Many knew they faced the prospect of going to Japan after the war in Europe concluded.
Many went to Korea a few years later when their country called again. Some went on to Vietnam as well.
Many came back and went to work, started a family, and really never mentioned their service.
I think of the men and women in the armed forces today. They are all volunteers.
They are there because of a sense of duty to country.
They sacrifice their time, their lives, their limbs and in some cases the chance to make much more money doing something a lot safer to serve their country.
They know when they volunteer, the chance that they will see combat is great, yet they volunteer anyway.
My son worked in a plant that employed a lot of veterans.
One day, he was orienting a new employee who was just back from Iraq. As they were walking around the plant floor, a nail gun popped a nail in a piece of wood.
Out of reflex the young veteran grabbed my son, who he had known for only a few minutes, and pushed him to the ground to protect him.
I guess he was thinking about Iraq and the sound of the nail gun made his reflexes kick in.
This veteran was still protecting another human being.
Always serving …
Joel Harlow is a rancher, banker and freelance writer who lives near Canton.