The Background to Operation Meatball

Our awareness of and love for WWII veterans started in 2005 when we participated in the 60th anniversary of Iwo Jima held in Fredericksburg, Texas. A few years later, our family traveled to Normandy for the first time and took part in the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. The veteran friendships we formed there left an especially deep impression on us, but it wasn't until the summer of 2014, after returning from Normandy and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day, that the three of us decided to commit the next several years to honoring and showing gratitude to the veterans of the Second World War. We were deeply impacted by the shortage of time we have with this unique and special generation, and want to make the most of the opportunities we have to absorb all we can from their life and experiences, to understand what shaped them and made them into such a distinctive group, and to enjoy personal interaction with some of the most wonderful people we've ever met. 

History has always been alive to us. Our grandparents and our parents taught us to interact with history whenever we could. We have always visited important historical sites and cemeteries with our family. We were encouraged and challenged to search, record, and internalize the important experiences from those who have gone before us and to learn from their wisdom.

The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope. -General Robert E. Lee

So what do we do then? We find or create opportunities to show our gratitude for those who have played such a special role in our history. The treasures of history that these men hold are deep and rich. We talk to them in person, ask them what they want us to remember, what they believe are the important lessons that our generation needs to learn from them. We love the friendships we have made and consider every interaction with these veterans as a gift. When they are gone, we will only have our memories; the conversations we shared, the photographs we took, and the letters we exchanged. Each life is so full of value, we feel an obligation to discover and understand, best as we can, and then tell their story. How did they grow up; who were the defining influences in their lives; were they connected to their family; what was important to them then, and what is important to them now. But these are not questions on a form. We don't see this as a news report, history research, or even a "project," important as those are. The answers to these questions, for us, come with time and friendship. 

Sometimes we dress in the style of the 1940s WWII home-front, usually for special events. It started as a small way to show our appreciation for these men; but very quickly we found out this bridged the gap in our ages and generations, and reminded them of an era in which the simple details of life brought joy and stability during a time of great challenge. It's one of the greatest compliments we can receive to be told we look like their mother, or sister, or sweetheart. 

Sometimes we are greeters and servers for events. When we can, we host our own gatherings in commemoration of anniversaries and special days, or just so that we can introduce veterans to each other and listen to them swap stories and experiences. Faith loves to sing the songs of the 1930s and 40s, the music the GIs grew up with. We love hearing her sing a special request and watching their responses. Some sit thoughtfully, others tear up, but the best is when they sing with her. Moments like this are just priceless to us. And as far as where the name "Operation Meatball" comes from... well, there really isn't an answer to that. Before the 2014 trip to Normandy, we threw around the idea of giving it a name in honor of previous endeavors such as Operation Overlord, Operation Fortitude, and the like. However, somehow along the way (no one really knows who started it) we ended up with Operation Meatball. Not very dignified, but neither was the name Operation Mincemeat. 

Finally, the blog is our way of keeping record of just a few of the people we meet, and the things we learn along the way. We post as frequently as time permits, but if we are slow about it sometimes, don't worry, we'll get back to it soon! 

Liberty, Jubilee, and Faith Phillips

San Antonio, Texas

A Promise Made

We see them here and there. At the park, a concert or even the local grocery store; living a normal life, just one of the crowd. The only thing that distinguishes them maybe is a black baseball cap with the words: World War Two Veteran in gold embroidery. We see them but it means no more than if it said ‘Red Sox” or “I love New York”. Occasionally, if it does strike a cord and get past that thick barrier in our minds, we might think, “oh, I should go and thank them, but I don’t have the time. Maybe next time.” The problem is, there is no ‘next’ time. Why?  they are dying out. Every day. 

I am seventeen years old this year, and for fifteen of those years I have spent a meaningful part of my life meeting these men and studying their histories. For the last thirteen years my family has taken part in an earnest effort to remember these forgotten heroes and honor them when so many of today’s generation has absolutely no desire to remember or thank those who bled and died for hundreds of thousands, even millions of men and women they would never know. Once a year on Memorial Day, we pause to remember, maybe. If we aren’t thinking about the finale of the latest sports event and our favorite team winning. We mumble something about how they gave their all for us that we might be free but we don’t even know what we are saying. These forgotten heroes did give their all. They had arms and legs blown off. Jaws shot away. Allowed themselves to be blown to pieces by land-mines so that the fellows behind them would have a safer path, and many of the veterans still alive today carry with them dozens of pieces of shrapnel in them left over from war wounds, all because they believed in what they fought for and understood it to be a just and right cause. Yet each time we ignore them we miss an once and a lifetime opportunity that we will never have again.

Three years ago my father took a group of people back to Normandy for the 67th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of 1944. It was an incredible experience for all of us, especially as we were able to be with the men at the very spot were they fought and watched their buddies die. While we were there we met a few veterans in particular whom we have became especially close with over the last three years. We correspond regularly with and speak to them on the phone. They often send us lengthy letters filled with stories, poetry they have written over the years, and details about their life. We also talk about life in general, about our families, and about our faith.

At one point, one of the men dearest to us began to be discouraged and perhaps a bit lonely. He sounded like he wanted to give up on life. My dad wrote him and said basically this -- We have a deal for you --- stay alive until the 70th, read your Bible, seek the Lord and God willing my children will be there to stand by your side for the 70th. He accepted.

As the 70th anniversary of D Day came closer we began to wonder if we could keep the promise to these men. There were just no resources. So we talked as children and came to Mom and dad with a new plan. What if we prayed much, and worked hard as the children to save up the money to cover 100%?  Dad and Mom agreed on the condition that if the Lord did not provide this way, we would be content to accept that as a "no." But God did bless the effort in many unexpected ways, and when all was said and done, Operation Meatball was a go.

Leading up to the event, we practiced dozens of songs to sing for the veterans, made vintage-looking clothing to honor them, and worked on the many little details necessary to make the most out of Operation Meatball. Now we are just very excited and thankful and hope that God will give us many opportunities to bring encouragement to the World War II friends we know, and the new ones we hope to meet. 

The name Operation Meatball came from a couple of things. Besides being one our our favorite meals, it is also a battlefield term used to "refer to surgery that is meant to be performed rapidly to stabilize the patient as quickly as possible" (wiki). Our purpose for using the name is practically the same thing. Taking an issue that is in serious danger of dying out from lack of care and gratitude, stabilizing it to the best of our ability through our actions, and pumping back enough life into it so that the memory of the men of World War Two will continue on through the generations.

Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. -Deut. 32.7
 Operation Meatball

Operation Meatball

 In Normandy in 2011 for the 67th with our friend, Mr. Douglas, veteran of D Day.

In Normandy in 2011 for the 67th with our friend, Mr. Douglas, veteran of D Day.

 Visiting Mr. Womack, veteran of D Day.

Visiting Mr. Womack, veteran of D Day.

 Visiting Mr. Scott, veteran of D Day.

Visiting Mr. Scott, veteran of D Day.