As we have reflected on this last year's blessings, losses, and adventures with Operation Meatball - counting up the miles, the stories, and planning for the future - we feel that it is a wonderful thing to look back on the year’s endeavors with satisfaction, even as we anticipate all that next year might hold. So, as 2016 comes to a close and our thoughts turn to the New Year, we would like to share with all of you a review of what this past year looked like for us and our efforts with Operation Meatball.
2016 has been highlighted by intimate gatherings, breakfasts, and get-togethers instead of the larger, more commercial events. This has given us some of the most precious and meaningful interactions ever, with stories that have changed our lives.
We started the year with our monthly “Redshirt breakfasts,” a sweet time for us to gather for breakfast at local restaurants with Honor Flight veterans from the San Antonio area, listen to them share war stories, and just catch up on life.
Also in January, our dear friend Flo from France, his mother Jocelyne, and their friend and filmmaker Hugo Le Gourrierec stayed with us for a while to interview local WWII veterans as part of Flo’s on-going project to honor American veterans back in France. It means so much to work along side friends like Flo who share our heart and vision and dream.
At the end of January, we headed to the Dallas/Fort worth area for the monthly veterans luncheon hosted by a friend. This is a highlight every single month as we spend hours and hours chatting, singing, and hearing stories from 65+ of the sweetest veterans.
We have gotten to know these wonderful gentlemen and a handful of adorable ladies over the past two years, and look forward to our regular reunion with each of them. Faith gets to sing some of their favorite hits from the WWII era, and occasionally we are treated to them singing along with her!
In February, Operation Meatball hosted The Grand Old Fashioned President’s Day Party for our San Antonio area veterans, held at our favorite location: Dick’s Classic Garage and Car Museum in San Marcos. It was an absolute blast! We had nearly 30 WWII heroes come and join us. There was lots of singing, American history quizzes, more singing, a bit of poetry, more singing, good old fashioned hot dogs and hamburgers, and of course... (drum roll) more singing.
Later that month, Liberty was our ambassador to the Iwo Jima Reunion in Washington D.C. She got to rub shoulders with about 20 of the Marine Corp’s finest - the veterans who took part in one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history, but one that helped to define the war. These fellas can tell you war stories that make your hair stand on end, and inspire pride and gratitude in the coldest heart.
In March, we took a sudden and sad trip to Ohio to say goodbye to our hero and dear friend Ira Morehart. Mr. Morehart was one of the brave paratroopers who jumped into Holland, survived the cold of Bastogne, had his run-ins with General Patton, and yet remained one of the humblest guys you’d ever meet. We can't make it to every funeral, but it is very important to us to go to those we can.
On April 13, we were so happy to cheer on Iwo Jima and Navy veteran Joe Barger in one of his many competitions for the Texas Senior Games. It is utterly inspiring to us to watch these nonagenarians run races like this 10k and achieve what many younger men and women won’t even try.
The beginning of May, Liberty was sponsored to travel to Holland to assist with a filmmaking project dedicated to telling the story of the American liberators in the Netherlands. We are so proud of Willem Braaam and Ralph Peeters, the Replacements Group, and the many others committed to the effort to remember.
Also in May, Liberty started training for the 41st annual Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for the Iwo Jima Association of America to send Iwo Jima vets back to the island. And on Memorial Day, a few of us made it to Fredericksburg and the Nimitz Museum for the Memorial Day program there, and of course ran into some of our country's finest who were also in attendance.
On June 6th (and the 73rd anniversary of D-Day) we drove to Pennsylvania for the spectacular Reading Air Show. For four days, we were up to our ears in WWII veterans, old planes, parachute jumps, 1940s fashion, WWII era Music, War stories, and fellow old souls. We were so happy to see some of our east coast veterans who are just hard to get to! June wrapped up with us back in Dallas/Fort Worth, as every month, visiting our wonderful fellas and ladies there.
Liberty and our adorable 10 year old sister Virginia kicked off July by going door to door selling potted flowers to tell folks about the Marine Corp Marathon and raise money for the Iwo vets.
July 4, we were so happy to help promote Dick’s Classic Car Museum which has been so generous to us in our efforts to honor WWII veterans. On the 6th, Liberty and Jubilee were guests of a friend at the Nimitz Foundation’s annual dinner in Fredericksburg with our dear Iwo Jima veteran Fred Harvey.
We took some time off for our family reunion at the beginning of August, and then drove to Ohio for D-Day Conneaut. The little town is transformed and gives the 30,000 people attending rare and special opportunities to know history a little bit with rides in real Higgins crafts and a dramatic re-creation of the D-Day invasion re-enacted on Lake Erie.
It’s all great fun, but by far the best part for us was the 200 WWII veterans who came out. Conneaut is very special to us. This was the event that helped jump-start Operation Meatball in 2014, and some of our first and dearest veteran friendships came from this darling town. And so, this year, our third attending, was also bittersweet as we had said goodbye days before to a couple of very dear friends who had initiated us into the Conneaut spirit three years ago and who had become an important part of our lives.
In September, we attended the 36th Infantry Division Reunion in our home town (we will always have a special place in our hearts for our T-Patch soldiers!), got to welcome back one of our wonderful Honor Flights as they returned from D.C., and made a quick trip up to Dallas/Fort Worth to visit a couple of veterans we hadn't seen in a bit. Liberty shared her birthday celebration with one of our special “Squadron 95” veterans who happened to turn 96 the day after her 20th birthday.
October was a busy month with a visit to Toccoa, Georgia for the annual Toccoa Military Weekend, then back to San Antonio for the Fifth Marine Division Reunion, more Honor Flight breakfasts (of course!), over to Houston for another highlight - the Wings Over Houston Air Show, up to Dallas/Fort Worth for the monthly luncheon, and finishing up with Liberty flying to D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon, the culmination of her fundraising for the Iwo Jima Association of America.
Of course, a trip to D.C. meant a mandatory day trip to the WWII Memorial greeting Honor Flights. “Coincidentally,” Houston Honor Flight arrived the same day with a whole crowd of Texans. Naturally, it was all planned that way.
En-route home from the marathon, Liberty attended the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment reunion held the first weekend in November in Charleston, South Carolina. Last year the reunion was held in San Antonio, so it was great to catch up with old friends and make a few more.
Veterans Day was November 11. Of course, this is a favorite day of the year, and we were thrilled to spend it in Dallas at the elegant luncheon put on by the Daughters of WWII.
A quick breather for Thanksgiving with the family was followed by the round of Christmas parties and beautiful year-end events which bring so many veterans together to celebrate another year of life and memories.
Of special note was the momentous Remember Pearl Harbor luncheon in Dallas/Fort Worth which honored those fallen and recognized the tragic event which initiated America’s entrance in the war.
Some of the most precious and tender memories from 2016 were the personal visits to the homes of veteran friends when we have had time to visit for hours on end, look through photo books, and hear myriads of stories over a cup of tea or coffee, and just interact on a more intimate level. We treasure these moments more than we can express and will nurture these memories as long as we live.
Having been raised on Kipling's "fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run," we continue to feel the urgency to connect with and keep up with these dearest of souls as they slip away from us faster and faster. As we look over 2016, we are deeply grateful for the opportunities we have had to be a part of 30 veterans’ breakfasts, 8 Dallas/Fort Worth monthly luncheons, 1 annual Operation Meatball hosted event, 5 reunions, too many funerals, countless phone calls and letters and house visits, traveling 25,000 miles (18,000 by car and 7,000 by plane). May God grant us everything we need in 2017 to make the most of every moment.
~Liberty, Jubilee, and Faith