Monday, June 27, 2011

Hero at the Next Table

Friday evening we sat just one table over from a hero. 

He looked just like many of the other men in the restaurant, in his early 80s, silver-haired, suntanned, wearing bermuda shorts and a polo shirt, eating and talking with five other vibrant senior citizens. 

These seniors can be found all over Florida, but Friday evening we were near The Villages, where most of the residents are retired, all the landscapes are manicured, and shopping centers and grocery stores have parking places designated for golf carts.

The lady seated next to the hero, a much younger retiree, chatted with him, and, as folks do at a large table in a busy restaurant, they turned toward each other to speak, which directed their conversation in my direction.  I tuned in when the lady said, "...ya know, like in Saving Private Ryan? The movie?  You were there?  On D-Day?"

The man answered, "In Normandy? Oh, yeah.  I was there."  Their conversation within my earshot continued long enough for me to hear that he was on the beach that first day, D-Day. I sat,  a little awestruck.  An American hero.  Part of the push that won the war.  So THAT'S who he was.

Yes, I know there were thousands there that day.  I know that this man, and many, probably did not want to be there, but were simply following orders.   He may have been no braver than soldiers who were back in the states, filing paperwork, driving trucks, casting off ropes on troop transports.  They are all my heroes. 

A few of them are in my family - less now than a few years ago. 

Every few months lately, our community has sent off an Honor Flight.  A plane full of elderly veterans and their escorts takes off early in the morning for Washington, DC, where they visit several locations, including the World War II Memorial. They are saluted as heroes everywhere they go.   They fly back the same day.  These flights are publicized ahead, and the community is invited to meet the returning heroes.  Hundreds show up each time.  Our community is patriotic like that.

The schedule has not worked for us yet, but maybe next flight, in October, will find us in the crowd forming a cheering line.  Cheering the heroes.
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