Recently, as I do on most Monday’s, I had an opportunity to visit with “Hank”, a member of the “Greatest Generation” as chronicled in Tom Brokaw’s New York Times bestselling book “The Greatest Generation”. As I and this 89 year old true American Hero made our way to his daughter & son-in-Law’s home located outside Albany NY we left behind the congested streets of New York’s Capital City and traveled through suburban neighborhoods to the rural countryside. As is often the case Hank and I would pass the time discussing a variety of topics ranging from current events, to Hank’s most recent visit with his great grandchildren, or the latest news from my own son & daughters and their families.
On this particular trip, when I asked how his visit to the Stratton VA had gone, Hank asked me to repeat my question and stated that the batteries in his hearing aid had run out several hours earlier in the day. After briefly discussing plans to have a set of spare batteries on hand “just in case” for next time Hank went on to confess that he had lost his hearing “…in ’45 due to a Bazooka blast”. In the year or so since Hank and I had been making our weekly visit to the Stratton VA Hospital we had never once discussed his service during World War II. Somewhat taken aback by Hank’s reference to the war, but nevertheless curious about his service I asked if he had served in the Pacific or European theater. Hank responded “I was at Cologne, in Germany and was too close to a Bazooka when it went off… Knocked me out cold… when I came to I could hardly hear anything at all!” After a short pause, and as we turned into the driveway of his daughters home he said “I don’t like to think about it and the things we had to do there much.” Turning the key in the ignition, and loosening my seat belt, I shifted to my right and looked at my friend now lost in his memories of that time, staring blankly out the window of the van. In what upon reflection seems like little more than a cliche remark I said “Hank, you all did what had to be done, and I want you to know that I appreciate all you did!” “I know Sam, I know… and thank you.” came the response.
After helping Hank into the house, and exchanging our usual farewell, I returned to the van for the short drive back to Albany. As I made my way, in silence, back to the VA hospital where countless other Veterans seek healing and relief from all manner of physical and emotional trauma, I could not help but wonder what sort of horrors remain after more than seven decades. And, more importantly how can those of us who did not serve best assist these men and women to find openings with which to pass through the physical and emotional obstacles they face each and every day?