My husband recently had some time off, and we were able to travel home to the Midwest to see our families. My grandfather was in the hospital, so one of our first stops was to visit him. We had a nice visit, and as we were getting ready to leave, my husband, Craig, took an air medal out of his pocket, and presented it to my grandfather. My grandpa flew on the PB4Y-2 during World War II and, at the end of his time in the service, all of his military belongings were stolen. My grandpa was very touched by Craig’s actions, and there was not a dry eye in the room. I think the thing that affected me most was that Craig had decided back home he was going to do this, bought an air medal for him, and brought it back with us. Craig’s grandparents are all gone, and have been since he was young, so this was a gesture not only of love, but that he felt that my grandpa was his as well. I’m not sure if he didn’t tell me because he wanted it to be a surprise, or because he didn’t want me to start crying (as tough as I am a military spouse my family, especially my grandparents, is my weak spot), but it was one of the most touching things he could have done, and it meant so much to the family. As I tear up while typing this, there was no greater moment than we were getting ready to end the visit. Craig said, “We will see you again before we leave,” to which my grandpa, a stubborn Irishman who is usually not heart-broken when his guests leave, shook Craig’s hand and quietly said, “I hope so.” The military bond is strong.
My dad had told us earlier that Frank Perconte, one of the few surviving members of the real Band of Brothers (I’m sure you’ve heard of the HBO series?), was in the hospital as well, recovering from a fall. He asked us if we wanted to meet him, and of course we said we did. Frank is 96-years-old, and is in remarkable shape. Craig was very excited to talk to him, as he’s read the book and seen the television series. He quickly started asking him questions about the other men in his group, and Frank was thrilled to share his amazing stories, sharp and witty as ever. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but hope that when Craig is Frank’s age, someone will respect him as much as he does Frank, and everyone else that has served before him. All of Frank’s stories were awesomely entertaining, but the story of how he joined was the one that made me smile. He and one of his friends were at a movie (he called it a “motion picture show”) and, beforehand, there was an Army recruiter who came out and told the audience members that if any of the men were interested in signing up to be a paratrooper, they would make an extra $50 a month. Frank and his friend watched the movie, and then went to sign up the next day. Just like that. When he saw my surprised face, he said, “Well we were going to be drafted the next week anyway! I wanted that $50!” I could respect that. In order to get that extra $50, they were required to pass five jumps. FIVE! (As someone who is afraid of heights, I figured something more practical, like 100 jumps, would be needed before I could trust myself to jump out of a plane in the middle of a foreign country). After that, they were deployed. I stood there, and found it hard to imagine a time like it was back then. A time when you were forced to go to war, at such a young age, and how many of our service-members wouldn’t have returned. Mr. Perconte is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met, and I hope that he lives for 96 more years. This was an experience that I wish I could have shared with all of my former troubled students, as it gave me such respect for a man I had previously never met, and someone who had done so much for our country.
I hope you all have a great weekend.