I’ve read a number of books and have seen a number of movies about World War II. I’m not an expert on it, just enough to know how it went, where we were, who the bad guys were and how we won.
But to hear the stories from the men who were there…is beyond words.
We started out this morning at Moon Township High School. School administrators invited the 200 or so Battle of the Bulge Veterans to be honored at an assembly. The school concert ensemble played patriotic music, a girl’s chorus lip-synched “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, the boys from the football team giggled and yawned and talked over the principal as he introduced the veterans. I thought, oh boy…the greatest generation is about to get the cold shoulder from the Y-generation.
Pat Murphy of Little Rock, Arkansas, dressed in the same uniform he wore during the Battle of the Bulge stood and led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. The way he did it, changed the entire tone of the assembly.
Instead of reciting it, Retired Sgt. Murphy led the pledge slowly, making every word count. “One.” “Nation”. “Under”. “God”. “Indivisable”. “With”. “Liberty”. “And”. “Justice”. “For”. “All”.
Simple, but very effective. Two senior high girls sat on the second row and wiped away tears as they saw how much that pledge meant to these men. Other veterans told stories from the bloodiest and biggest battle of WWII and the boys on the football team were hinging on every word.
Tonight at the annual “Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge” Banquet, the Brigadier General from the Belgium Embassy in Washington spoke of how much these men, and what they did 60 years ago, means today to the people of Belgium. He promised his support of this documentary and pledged to help me make a trip there this December on the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle.
Talking with these men has meant a lot to me personally. I’ve been able to thank them for what they did. They’ve shared their stories with me, some they’ve never told before. Whoever said WWII veterans are reluctant to talk about their experiences must have never asked them. Some of my interviews went 30-40 minutes. They told of friends who died beside them. They told of feeling they wouldn’t make it out alive. These 80 year old men cried as they remembered what it was like in the below freezing temperatures as the buzz bombs and small arms fire flew around them.
But what strikes me the most about these men as they tell their stories is that they don’t tell them in a way that even hints as bragging. It was simply a sense of duty and honor. It was their job.
I thank God tonight that they said yes.