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