“They died to save their country and they only saved the world.”

Memorial Day Special from the Operation Meatball Archives // July 28, 2014

Have you ever heard someone say, “When I die, put this on my gravestone.” You probably have. Chances are you have even said that yourself a couple of times. But have you ever stopped to really consider how you will be remembered after you die?

For as long as I can remember, my father has always made it a very important part of our education to bring us to cemeteries, and the older the cemetery, the better. This has always a special part of family trips for me, even when I was very little. Some of my favorite memories of the New England coast are visiting the graves of the founding fathers and mothers of America. This is not because I have a weird fascination with death or anything else macabre and dark, but because I love learning about the men and women who shaped history. Multi-generational families can be found buried in one plot, such as the John Adams family and the Cotton Mather family. Then there is Cole’s Hill in Plymouth which holds the graves of many Pilgrims including William Bradford and William Brewster, as well as the grave of missionary Adoniram Judson, all men who left legacies that have lasted hundreds of years.

There 4,648 men buried in the Bayeux War Cemetery. The majority of them are from the United Kingdom.

Today, you can learn about anyone or anything on the internet if you just type it in. If you are more patient you can read about your subject of choice in books, letters, journals, newspaper articles, sometimes even film and documentaries. Yet I have found a very intimate way to get a personal glimpse into someone's life is to look at their gravestone. What is written on someone’s gravestone is the final statement that will be read about them for the next 200 years. The person might have been long forgotten, but their epitaph, the words on the stone marking their remains, will give testimony to their life in one way or another. 

When I am dead and in my grave, 
And all my bones are rotten. 
While reading this you'll think of me 
When I am long forgotten!

As in all writing, the spectrum between profound, morbid, mundane, humorous, and even absurd exists on gravestones. This grave from Nova Scotia takes on a bit of the tongue in cheek: 

Here lies Ezekial Aikle:
Age 102
The Good Die Young  

And not all are truthful. The Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says of the word epitaph, “The epitaphs of the present day are crammed with fulsome compliments never merited. Can you look forward to the honor of a decorated coffin, a splendid funeral, a towering monument--it may be a lying epitaph.” 

Sometimes, if you pay attention, a phrase, a quote, or even as much as a sentence can give the reader an especially distinctive and even profound summary of that person's life. Were they of noble character? Or a villain? Were they loved by family? Or did they die lonely? What is written on that stone could very well be the ultimate summation of that person's life.

At the centre of this peaceful cemetery a solitary rock monument is covered in wreathes and notes from the families of the fallen.

One of the most moving aspects of our time in Normandy was visiting the Omaha Memorial and Bayeux War Cemeteries. Both were special and unique. At Omaha were rows and rows of plain white crosses, with only the name, date, state, and regiment. It was magnificent in its simplicity. But the British War Cemetery in Bayeux surprised me by its beauty. Walking into it was truly like walking into a piece of England. It had a peacefulness and tranquility about it that was enhanced by the well tended gardens surrounding each grave and going on down the uniform rows. There are 4,648 men of varying nationalities buried in this cemetery, but the majority of it is made up of the flower of England’s youth. 

There was so much to take in, but the most poignant part for me was to see the inscriptions that were written on almost all of the graves- quotes or last messages from the family of the deceased. Of the 4,116 English, Scottish, and Canadian soldiers buried there, there is not much we know, who they were, what were they like, etc. But what we do know is this, what is written on their epitaphs tells us a story that is one of the greatest and most powerful stories that has ever been told: A loving son, a brother, or husband did his duty for God and country and willingly sacrificed his life for the lives of his loved ones and future generations. 


"He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him.Even length of days for ever and ever." Lt. Patrick Shaw, age 22, Royal Armored Corps.

“Greater love,” says the Bible, “hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This was the text for many a gravestone. I wish that I could write an article on each epitaph, and the meaning and essence of what they communicate to future generations like you and me. But alas for time. Instead, I have included below some of the epitaphs that most struck me. Some are elaborate, others more plain, but they each communicate a message; of bravery and courage, of love and heartbreak, sometimes very personal. 

Signalman P.H. Ellis’s grave spoke of a loving mother: “My Only Child, he gave his all. Till We Meet Again -Mother.” Somewhere in England, the mother of P.H. Ellis lived out her life without  grandchildren to renew her youth because her son “gave his all.”

For Private S. Coles of the Royal Army Medical Corps it was a a duty well done: “He died his country to defend, A British soldier’s noble end.”  

The wife of A. Fishwick, Royal Engineer, would always remember her husband as one who:  “Gave his heart to home, His soul to God. Fought for King and country wife and baby.” 

"I've anchored my soul in the haven of rest, in Jesus I'm safe evermore." W. A. Hill, age 22, the Green Howards

Many Englishmen were still remembering the futile losses of the first World War; thought to be the “war to end all wars.” But it was not; and it is very probable that the suffering and the bloodshed was in the forefront of the minds of those who inscribed “He made his sacrifice for us. Grant it is not in Vain” on the grave of Royal Dragoon R.J. Colley after his death. 

A very beautiful one that can ring true to the heart of every Englishman was Royal Marine, J.R. Rigby’s: “There’s some corner of a foreign land that is forever England.”

As a lasting memory to Lieutenant T.W.R. Healy of the RAF, it was chosen to have this inscription written on his grave: “I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.”  Would that all could say as his stone said, for truly he had. 

It would take a long time to properly go through and catalogue all the epitaphs which were written in that cemetery, but, certainly, one of the ones which moved me the most was the grave of Paul Abbott Baillon of the Royal Air Force who died November, 1940, age 26. His grave simply stated, “One of the few.” That one simple phrase communicated more about valour and heroism than a thousand words in the Telegraph or Wallstreet Journal could have. What do I mean by this, and what does it mean, “One of the few?”

Royal Air Force Pilot Officer Paul Abbott Baillon: "One of the few"

P.A Baillon: One of the few who had so gallantly defended England during her darkest hours when invasion seemed imminent, and the hope of a empire nearly gone. One of the few RAF pilots (544 to be exact) who gave their lives during the Battle of Britain. One of Churchill’s few. The few he spoke of when he would make the remark that would forever go down in the annals of history, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Yes. P.A. Baillon RAF, was “one of the few.”

As I write this now, in retrospect, and remember the words I read on these markers, words of the courage of youth, the heartbreak of a wife, the love of a mother for an only son, and the duty of a soldier, this verse from the poet G.K.Chesterton keeps coming into mind. “They died to save their country and they only saved the world.” How true this statement is. They died to save their England. Our boys died to save America. And instead, they saved the world. What beauty in their sacrifice. What can we do to pay them back in some small way for the sacrifice they made? There  is nothing we can do to fully repay it, but we can try by remembering these men, the veterans of WWII. 

Along the top of the Bayeux Memorial frieze is this latin inscription: "We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land". It is a fitting epitaph.

How grateful I am for this little look into their lives and character as I read these epitaphs. Stop in a cemetery and take a look. 

English Graves

Were I that wandering citizen whose city is the world,
I would not weep for all that fell before the flags were furled;
I would not let one murmur mar the trumpets volleying forth
How God grew weary of the kings, and the cold hell in the north.
But we whose hearts are homing birds have heavier thoughts of home,
Though the great eagles burn with gold on Paris or on Rome,
Who stand beside our dead and stare, like seers at an eclipse,
At the riddle of the island tale and the twilight of the ships.

For these were simple men that loved with hands and feet and eyes,
Whose souls were humbled to the hills and narrowed to the skies,
The hundred little lands within one little land that lie,
Where Severn seeks the sunset isles or Sussex scales the sky.

And what is theirs, though banners blow on Warsaw risen again,
Or ancient laughter walks in gold through the vineyards of Lorraine,
Their dead are marked on English stones, their loves on English trees,
How little is the prize they win, how mean a coin for these—
How small a shrivelled laurel-leaf lies crumpled here and curled:
They died to save their country and they only saved the world.

G. K. Chesterton

Touching History: Why Scars Matter

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He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day.”

William Shakespeare, “Henry V”


Last year I sat with a crusty, 93 year-old Marine from the Battle of Iwo Jima. I asked him frank questions about Iwo. He was Irish. He answered me back frankly. In more ways than one, the battle was still with him.

“I have some of the island still in me.” O’Malley told me in a thick Massachusetts accent. Extending one of his hands to me, aged, but massive and strong, he said, “See those two black spots? That’s sand from the beaches of Iwo Jima.” The Marine allowed me to touch the spots with my fingers. A doctor had once offered to remove them, he told me, but O’Malley had responded with a firm no! “I earned that!” For 73 years he had carried those pieces of black volcanic ash in his hand, a memory of the most defining days of his life. There was no way they would be removed now.

This wasn’t the first time a veteran has showed me his scars. Once, another Marine friend had taken my hand and put it to his temple. “Feel that,” he said. “That’s shrapnel from the jungles Nam.” 

And at a monthly breakfast group one morning, an Army vet stretched both his arms out over the table and pointed out to me the lines he had running up from his wrists to elbows, “June 6th, 1944, on Omaha Beach,” he said matter-of-factly. “I held my arms up to cover my face from the bullets. Good thing I did because otherwise my face wouldn’t look too pretty.”

“It never looked pretty,” kidded another D-Day survivor from across the table.


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As most kids are, I think, growing up I was fascinated by scars. My brothers [and sisters] always hoped our scratches from outdoor play would turn into scars, and when they didn’t, we solved that problem by drawing them in with permanent marker. Maybe not the best idea. But it sure looked good.

As adults, we each carry internal scars of battles we’ve fought. Some of them we are proud of, others we are content to keep hidden deep in our hearts.

But why do scars matter?

I think Shakespeare hits the nail on the head in Henry V.

“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars / And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day.””

There is nothing like an external scar to show the world that you fought hard and conquered. In the Japanese culture, there is a practice called, kintsugi: A piece of broken pottery is repaired with gold, not only renewing the life in it, but adding value by celebrating and showing pride in it’s “scars.”

I consider it a treasured privilege to be shown a veteran’s battle scars. Something very personal is transferred. And I become custodian to a moment from 75 years in the past.

When I took that crusty Marine’s hand and felt his scars, I could feel a battle that took place 51 years before I was even born. I was touching history.


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Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors: Home from the Islands

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I arrived home from traveling all over the Pacific Islands with 7 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, who fought and spilled blood there 74 years ago.

It was a magical 10 days.

Sponsored by the Best Defense Foundation, we stood atop Mt. Suribachi and watched a Marine point to where he had landed on February 19, 1945. We walked along the side of Suicide Cliffs in Saipan and listened as a former Army Lt. Col. and Green Beret explained what it was like to see hundreds of misguided natives willingly throw themselves over the cliffs rather than fall into the hands of the Americans. And we picked up pieces of the tarmac on which the Enola Gay made her famous voyage, changing the course of history forever.

Even as I write now, I am getting chills up my arms.

There is obviously much to tell. For now, I will give you a sampling of photos, with hopefully more to come in the future.


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Rondo Scharfe. 16 year old Coxswain at Iwo Jima. His landing craft was hit just as he approached the beach. 17 of the 36 Marines on board were immediately killed. Rondo's sternum was split open, his front teeth were knocked out, and his nose was broken. In the chaos, and not aware of his injuries except that he had a huge pain in his chest, Rondo kept telling himself that, "16 was too young to have a heart attack. Just too young to have a heart attack." Before he bled out, someone grabbed him and pulled him ashore where he was saved.

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Fred Harvey, USMC, landed on February 19, 1945 with the 5th Marine Division. He made it 7 days before being seriously wounded after taking 3 Japanese grenades in his foxhole. Fred was evacuated off the island and spent the rest of the war in a body cast in hospital. Later on, Fred received the Silver Star for his bravery during a night patrol early on in the invasion of Iwo, when he was left to defend himself and a wounded comrade after being ambushed by the Japanese.

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Same Flag, 14 Years Apart:

On top of Mt. Suribachi with Iwo Jima Survivor Fred Harvey, 5th Marine Division. Fred and I are holding the SAME flag that my brothers brought to Iwo Jima 14 years ago, when they were 10 and 12 years old. So grateful to the Best Defense Foundation for making this special moment possible.


More to follow shortly…

Back to the Island

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When I went to Iwo Jima in 2015 with my dad, it fulfilled a dream I'd had since I was 8 years old. It completely changed my life, and I was pretty sure that my first time there would also be my last time.

But next Monday, I will be helping escort 6 veterans (including one of my dearest of friends) back to Iwo Jima, Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. I'm still waiting for reality to hit. But I am deeply grateful to the Best Defense Foundation for this opportunity to re-live those childhood dreams all over again and in the company of such heroes.

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Consequently, I have been studying like a madman in preparation. I feel like the word "excited" is an inadequate one to describe how I feel about returning to Iwo and making my first trip to Saipan and Tinian. The history of these islands is one that I feel so deeply connected to.

Iwo was my first introduction to WW2 when I was 6 or 7 years old. And some of the first stories of war I ever heard were from veterans of Saipan who described what it was like to watch the poor brainwashed natives take their own lives by jumping the cliffs rather than fall into the hands of what they had been told were "cannibal Americans."

Over breakfast one morning, a Marine (*see endnote) showed me a picture of the first Japanese he ever killed and the cave where he was wounded by a grenade. Another one showed me the volcanic ash that was still in his hands.

I have shared tears with hearty Marines who were making their first return to the battlefields; some of whom had left an arm, a leg, and hardest of all - their best friend.

But it wasn't just a rollercoaster of hardcore memories that makes my connection so deep. Along the way, I was a adopted by this special group of fighting men and given a second family. My Marine Corps family. All these extra uncles who declared I had to run any boyfriends by them for approval first, swore to protect me (in various forms of Marine Corps terminology), and were there to help me through some pretty rough times.

Mt. Suribachi (2015) with Sgt. John Coltrane

Mt. Suribachi (2015) with Sgt. John Coltrane

Going back to Iwo is pretty personal to me. More than the dress blues (which are gorgeous btw), more than the battle facts and statistics - because honestly, none of the adopted uncles are statistics to me - my Marines are living, breathing human beings who went through hell, but still managed to go on and live normal lives.

So what is the word I’m looking for to describe how I feel? Grateful? Heart-full? Thoughtful? Exuberant? I don't know. For now, just consider these words to be the placeholders until I do find the right one.

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** Note: The story of that Marine and the photo is not a story of the glorification of death… rather it is part of a beautiful story of forgiveness. When the Marine showed me the photo (one his buddy had taken), he was still angry with the Japanese. He had 70 years angst and bitterness built up that was coming to a climax. By showing me the photos, he was trying to share his story and find clarity in the mental conflict he was still fighting. He needed answers. All week I spoke to him about this, and others did as well… tskaAnd incredibly, the day we went to Iwo Jima, he was able to go up to a Japanese veteran and shake his hand. It was the first Japanese man he'd been willing to talk to since the war. The rest of the trip following that, he was happy and light-hearted. A month later, he passed away. I think he had finally found the deep peace and forgiveness he needed.

The "Patch Lady"

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I’d like to introduce you to “the Patch Lady.” In a way, she inspired my own patch bag.

We met the lovely Yolanda at a VJ Day event several years ago. The patches you see behind her were all given to her by servicemen in World war Two. A the ripe young age of 9, Yolanda old would spend her afternoons working at the local USO Canteen with her older sister, Anne, serving young GIs before they went off to war.

In the evenings she would invite them to her house for a home-cooked meal in exchange for one of their military patches. She became quite famous among the ranks, with even Generals Bradley and Montgomery mailing her their personal patches and a letter.

Looking at the board behind her, you can't help but wonder how many of the soldiers who owned one of the patches were sent overseas? How many of them came home? And was this the last home-cooked meal they were to ever have? So many patches representing so many brave fellows. Today they are remembered. Though some of their names may have been forgotten over time, the memory of them is carried on through this wonderful lady and her patches. Thank you Yolanda!


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"My War" as Told Through the Art and Letters of Tracy Sugarman

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When you are a child, the first rule of picking out a book is, “does it have good pictures?" If the answer is yes, then you open the book and read it. It the answer is no, you put the book back on its shelf. Why read a book with no illustrations?

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Then life catches up on you, you grow up and and have to realize that books aren’t all about pictures. Before you know it, all of your “adult” books just have words in them - long, sophisticated words that little children wouldn’t dream of knowing. And if they could, they would dismiss them as nightmares.

That’s pretty much what happened to me. My shelves (though I love each and every one in them), are nonetheless filled with picture-less books with words starting at 5 syllables each. They are long, sometimes dry, and full of lots of and lots of information. I read them and enjoy. I don’t think about the fact that they are picture-less.

However, once in a blue moon - when the unicorns and werewolves come out and play together- the 6 year old in me pops up and demands that I find books with good pictures in them.

That’s how I stumbled on this particular book, My War by Tracy Sugarman.

“disaster in the channel”

About a two years ago, I was visiting my brother in Florida and happened to stop by the Sanford renowned book shop, “Maya Books and Music.” It was completely charming, and I would have been happy walking away with half the store. But since my pocketbook groaned and declared otherwise, I decided I would have to be satisfied with this little find.

The moment I opened its cover, I was struck by the gorgeous watercolors and sketched images liberally distributed throughout the pages: simple pencil portraits of servicemen the author had encountered, dramatic scenes from a storm in the English channel, friend Tommy doing laundry near a windowsill of daffodils.

“Tommy and his laundry, with daffodils”

Alongside these images were detailed letters to his wife, "darling Junie," narrating his life as a young ensign in the US Navy the months surrounding the greatest naval invasion in history, "D-Day," and interspersed with his retrospective commentary years later when he would publish his drawings and letters.

The impetus for “My War” came from a parting gift Sugarman’s wife, June, gave him as he was preparing to go overseas in January, 1944.

“It’s a little something for both us us.”

I edged open the package and peered inside. Sketch pads! And pens and a tin of watercolors!

“How wonderful! You’re too much, Junie. But those are for me. "What’s for you?”

… Very quietly she said, “For me, it’s your sanity. And maybe some pictures so that I’ll know you’re alive and kicking! Hold on real tight, darling. You’ll be back and I’ll be waiting.”

“Junie” did wait, and hundreds of letters later, thousands of miles traveled, a great Naval Invasion, and a World War, Sugarman came home. At end of the book, Sugarman regrets that he was not able to save all the “funny, wonderful, life-sustaining letters” he received from his wife the months and months he was away. “They were read and reread, folded and unfolded until tattered, and finally abandoned when the next sea-soiled envelope arrived.” But thanks to Junie’s care, his did, giving us this thought-provoking and informative narration.

Tracy and his wife june “a summer day at ocean view”

In his preface, Sugarman says,

“I leave it to the historians to chronicle the strategies and dynamics of the global conflict of World War II. With the perspective gained from more than half a century of scholarship, they delineate the battle lines and campaigns, the tactics and struggles of the world I inherited after Pearl Harbor. They know a great deal about “the war”. But they didn’t live my war.

It is my conviction that ever sailor and soldier in World War II fought his own war. It was a struggle that only sometimes permitted him to see the enemy. But as he stared into the darkness from his ship or beachhead, he very soon began to see himself. So new to manhood, he watched himself grow through fear and loneliness, boredom and exaltation. It was an inescapable odyssey for each of us who served.”

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And such an odyssey he paints! Beautiful and haunting at times:

There are those long twilights here now. The sky is billions of miles away, and you feel very much alone. The water stretches away forever -no waves, hardly a ripple. The ships sit alone in the water, each in its own pool of aloneness. The sky arcs up from millions of empty miles beyond the shore. And straight up there’s nothing. It’s big and empty and very quiet. The sun goes away, and it’s still too big, too light. The emptiness comes off the water and crawls right into you.” (July 1 - T. B.Robertson)

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At other times, he writes the raw and truthful: realities of the high price war takes on youth and innocence:

The inconsistency between the American fighter and the American sailor or soldier is staggering. I remember so well how inadequate I felt when I tried to tell you how wonderful those guys were on the beaches last June. I wouldn’t take back a word of it. I feel now as I did then, but coupled with it goes a feeling of wonder. Wonder as to how such marvelous fighters can be such rotten people… Their conceit, their arrogance, their obscenity and vulgarity in front of anyone shames the life out of me… They never apologize for our own shortcomings, and get a majestic sort of pleasure in making the English painfully aware of theirs. In every conversation the “biggest,” the “newest,” the “cleanest,” the “fastest,” the most and the best of the good, the least of the bad… Individually, I would do anything for any of them. But as a group they are the antithesis of anything I desire. I don’t want to close our eyes and pretend the bad and the wrong and the ignorant aren’t there, darling. Those things are real, and too important to both of us. I want only to reject their standards and their values. They revolt and shock me. (Feb 23, 1945)

In his retrospective commentary, Sugarman adds some thoughts to the harsh words he spoke about the American Serviceman back in 1945:

One of my “kids”

One of my “kids”

There are unexpected surprises that one finds when unearthing an intimate record from one’s youth. The most astonishing to me are those letters from the war that describe my perceptions of many of the men with whom I served. They swing from admiration to revulsion, from pride to anger, from pleasure in their company to embarrassment at their provincialism and lack of sensitivity, yet older is not wiser… It is hard to remember how young we all were when we went of to war in 1944. Most of the sailors on my ships really were the “kids” I wrote of in my letter to June. Put to the test of physical courage, they were remarkable, often accomplishing the seemingly impossible and usually with pride and good humor. When off on liberty or leave in a war-torn England, however, their ignorance and immaturity often displayed itself in ways that were embarrassing to their fellow servicemen and arrogantly hostile to our hosts.

For the most part, these were kids who had never been away from home, who were fearful and tried to cover it with bravado, who had little or no sense of history, and often showed that they resented being there. American education had ill prepared them to understand how uniquely fortunate their own country was due to geography, not because we were born to be “number one in everything.” Nor did most of them understand how indebted we were to those who fought alone for so many years, although the shattered homes and churches and towns around them bore the dreadful testimony to the high price that the English had paid for all our freedom. For too many of the Americans, this war was not really our war. It was their war, “and if it wasn’t for us Yanks, they’d sure as hell lose it.” Thankfully, as a nation, we are a long way from the provincialism that was so rampant in many Americans in World War Two. -Sugarman

But even though he had hard words to say about the things he saw, he never once took for granted the sacrifice these boys were making.

“Young men dying seems to me, somehow, the greatest tragedy. The acceptance of death has been something new to me. And I know that death serves only to accentuate the love of living we both share so dearly. The bridge between is so complete, so final that you finally stop thinking of its terrible proximity and cling rather to pulsating life. Your laughter is a little quicker, your thinking is a little less shallow, your energies and ambitions fired with a new urgency.” (August 17)


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For our heart’s sake, not all his letters dwell on the hardships and seriousness of the job he and millions of the boys were experiencing… there are plenty of carefree and amusing accounts, including one which makes you marvel at the serendipitous happenings that sometimes occur in war:

“I had been napping, riding out the foul weather that had stopped all our work off the Robertson, when Mike, the stewards’ mate, excitedly came in my room and shook my shoulder. “Mr. Sweetenin’! Wake up! There’s a Lieutenant Sugarman looking for an Ensign Sugarman. Is you he?” I stared at the grinning sailor and bolted out of bed and raced up to Operations. The signalman pointed to the LST lying off our bow. "Signal came from there, sir.”

I stared across the water at the ship, rolling wildly in the windy chop of the Channel. Marvin here? It was too impossible to believe. But how marvelous if it were so! My older brother had been my role model in so many ways, and I had been the best man at his wedding. But I hadn’t seen him now in over a year. When I was getting my commission at Notre Dame, Marv and his wife, Roni, were stationed in Alabama… In my last letter from the folks, they were rejoicing that Roni was expecting a baby, their first grandchild. But not a word that Marvin might be shipping out to Europe. And now a few hundred yards away, he was coming to Utah Beach! I could just imagine the folks’ faces when they got the news!"

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In his letter to Junie, he related their first “meeting.”

The weather got more and more wild, and there was no way of getting there. So tonight I called their ship by radio and summoned Marv to the radio! Although strictly against regulation, it was too great a temptation. And honey, he sounded so wonderful! The magic of a familiar voice from home is something so good it can’t be described. Imagine, angel, having Marv right here on my beach! … The conversation was pretty crazy, both of us were so damn excited.

[Sugarman] “Hey, I understand you’re gonna be a father! Over.”

[Marv] “You’re yelling me! Over.”

[Sugarman] "I didn’t think you had it in you. Over.”

[Marv] “Are you kidding! Over.”

[Sugarman] I think it’s wonderful! You got a bottle of Scotch? Over.”

[Marv] “Lots of it. Get the hell over here! Over.”

It’s easy to see in their delighted faces the most happy surprise of being reunited with a bit of home on the beachheads of Normandy.


Another time, he relates an amusing incident that happened shortly before he was shipped overseas to England:

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“Late in January 1944, orders came directing our whole outfit to move out. We had all trained exhaustively and were eager to get to the English staging areas…. As we were packing to leave the base, unsettling new orders arrived.”

Sugarman and two other Ensigns, Tommy Wolfe and “Andy” Anderson, were detached to train a new batch of sailors soon to be arriving. Flattered but disappointed, he resigned himself to the fact it’d be a few months more before going over. However 3 days later, they received new orders: “Three officers and thirty men were to proceed immediately to Long Beach, NY to await transport to the ETO.” There was just one hitch… their new crew turned out to be more in the style of the Dirty Dozen rather then the “ship, shape, and bristol fashion” ones they’d just said the adieus to.

Sugarman wasn’t so sure. He’d grown up in Syracuse, NY and the only “tough characters” he was used to were the ones he met on the Lacrosse field and shook hands with at the end of each match.

“I finally took my buddy and fellow ensign, Tommy Wolfe, aside. A tough, street-smart New York kid himself, Tommy looked and sounded like Jimmy Cagney. He grinned at my concern about our new crews. “Relax, Sug. This is the biggest break these characters could dream of. If we’re tough and fair with them, they’ll work out great. I grew up with guys like them.””

Just as Tommy said, it turned out to be okay. “But I wondered how, at twenty-two, I could make these men believe I was tough enough to take them to war.”

On the train north to New York, June rode with the released prisoners. At the first opportunity, I took her aside. “Are you okay? They giving you a hard time?” She laughed. “They’re kids,” she said. “They’re tough kids. I wouldn’t want to be the Germans when they hit the beach. But they’re really very sweet.” I stared at my wife. “Sweet?” “Well,” she said, grinning, “they’re very sweet to me.””


The book is rich and full. The layers of depth and insight that comes from a mere 23 year-old are striking and cause you to go back and re-read the thoughts he penned to his wife during the tempestuous 18 months he spent overseas. 18 months that changed his life and the lives of millions around the world.

I do think have left me unscathed physically and mentally. I do not feel “older thank my years” nor “hardened by the crucible of fire.” Nothing I’ve seen has changed anything fundamentally in me. Possibly my resolution has sharpened some, my enthusiasm slightly tempered, my tolerance and understanding somewhat broadened. I think that’s happened to most of us in some degrees. Being here, there has had to be an assertion of self and independent spirit. If these are bounded by humility and a decent memory of what actually was, then it should be a healthy influence, not corruption. -Tracy Sugarman

Thank you for the lessons, Mr. Sugarman. And thank you for the pictures.


All quotes and images are taken from the book, “My War'“ by Tracy Sugarman


International Holocaust Remembrance: “My name was A15-049”

Rose Williams, at the age of 17. This passport photograph was taken shortly after her liberation.

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For this solemn occasion, here is a special post from the Operation Meatball archives. July. 08. 2014


“My name was A15-049”

Faith Phillips

Today I sat in a small room with a few of my siblings and listened to the story of a woman who had lived through the horrors of the Holocaust in the Nazi concentration camps.  Rose Williams was a 12 year old Polish girl when the World War II began in 1939. After the Nazis invaded Poland, the fingers of Naziism began to close around the throats of the Jews, beginning with subtleties and moving into unimaginable cruelties. This is where Rose found herself with her brother, sister, mother, father, and grandmother. 

Every week the phrase: "The Jews are our misfortune!" would appear at the bottom of the newspapers.

One evening, a German soldier came to their home and ordered them to be out of their house within the hour. Next door was a very kind Gentile family who offered to take the three children into their home and hide them. But from the oldest down to the youngest not one would choose to be separated from their family members. “What will happen to one, will happen to all.” Thus the whole family was transported to a ghetto where they stayed for some time working for and being beaten by the hands of the Germans. 

Once, they waited anxiously for her father to return from his work. When he finally came, he was quite bloody all over his face. “What has happened to you?” they cried. He explained that he had asked a German soldier for a rag to continue his work with; the soldier, wrenching his beard from his chin, replied, “Here is the best rag!” 

Rose was walking outside one afternoon with her grandmother when they saw German soldiers separating babies from their mothers and throwing them on the sidewalk. One woman who refused to release her child was shot and the baby was hurled to the ground beside many others. Rose’s grandmother ran toward the spot were the babies lay, but Rose, grabbing her grandmother by the hand, cried, “What are you doing?” Her grandmother replied, “I am going to go save some of those babies.” A German soldier seeing the commotion ran to them, asking what was going on.  “Oh nothing, Sir, nothing,” she said, trying to pull her grandmother back. Refusing, her grandmother ran forward to help some of the little lives. As she did, she was beaten down by the soldier and shot. “It has taken me years to black out the memory of my grandmother’s dead body lying there being trampled with no one to bury her.”

Eventually, the family was able to acquire two passes to get work outside the ghetto, which, even though holding many horrors of it’s own, was a better place to work. Rose and her sister found jobs in two different factories. The factory Rose worked in, being a munitions factory, contained a great deal of alcohol. Rose along with many other workers smuggled the alcohol which was very valuable to the starving families.

Various versions of the Star of David that was required to be worn by all Jews.

Then it happened. They were all piled into a train. Two buckets were thrown in to serve as toilets for the hundreds of people packed in the car. Anyone attempting to bend down and relieve themselves would not be able to stand up again. Because of the compactness of the car, they would be crushed or suffocated by the masses. Many died even before the train reached Auschwitz, their destination. 

Upon arriving at Auschwitz, they were forced into lines where the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death,” looked them over and decided whether they would go to the left or to the right, to immediate death in the gas chambers, or to temporary life in the work camps. The prisoners would be assembled and reevaluated from time to time.

An SS doctor decides who will live and who will die.

All Rose had when she had first stumbled off the train was a pair of winter boots and a couple of photographs of her family.  Even though she had so little, she had still been ordered to leave everything behind! Her warm boots were exchanged for some “dreadful” wooden hollander clogs. They froze when it was cold and got stuck when it was muddy. She decided that she could bear them no longer and threw them away. Her feet became ulcerated and unbearably painful.  All alone in a brutal concentration camp, she thought life was no longer worth living.  

Dr. Josef Mengele (middle) the "Angel of Death".

The next time Rose was in the line where life or death was being determined for so many, Dr. Mengele sent her to the right. She begged him to let her go to the death line instead. “He didn’t look at my sore legs or feet. He just looked at my face and said, ‘You are young yet,’ and pushed me to the other line.” In that unusual way, God used the famous “Angel Of Death”  to keep her life from death!

Not long after her life was spared, Rose found out that her little sister was one camp site away. She was able to find someone to switch places with, from her camp, to her sister’s. After being reunited, they both swore that they would never allow anything to separate them again.

In four years, she was kept in four different prison camps. Most of her time was spent carrying stones from one side of the camp to another, and then back for no purpose or reason except that she was ordered to by her captors. 

At last, that longed for, hoped for, awaited, day came in 1945:  “wolności,” freedom, liberty, liberation! The liberators arrived! They gave care packages and chocolate to the the starving people.  When Rose was released from the camp at 17 years of age, she weighed 87 pounds. She was sent to a hospital and had to stay there for two years until she weighed 100 pounds. To their delight, Rose and her sister found out that her brother had survived the camps, as well, and was still alive! 

In 1946, they all tried to get visas to be able to immigrate to the United States, but after finding out that her brother had tuberculosis, Customs would not allow him in. So Rose and her sister moved to what was viewed as the modern “Promised Land,” America. Her brother moved to the old Promised Land, Israel, and became a man of note there. Rose married, becoming Mrs. Rose Williams. She had children and grandchildren passing down to them an incredible legacy. Since 1945, she has traveled to Israel seven times. It’s amazing that God preserved her life through these tragic experiences! 

Mrs. Rose Sherman Williams

I have been told many times how my grandfather, as a little boy, would look out his window and see a little blonde haired Jewish girl whose parents had been killed in one of these death camps. He wondered what her name was and what her story was. Who knows, maybe this woman, Rose Williams, whom I met today, knew the little blonde haired girl’s parents. As a little boy, my dad saw that some of our relatives had numbers tattooed on their arms. When he asked about them, he was told that they got them in the concentration camps. These stories of the Jews during the Holocaust are very personal to me because this is part of my family history. In truth, this all happened in a land not very long ago, and not very far away.


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Say Something

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Not too long ago I wrote a letter to a friend. I told him how his friendship had helped me through some rough spots the last couple of years and how I would always be grateful. Forever. 💙At the time I thought it may be too much (we're both pretty awkward with sap) but I went ahead and mailed it anyways.

That letter ended up being my last opportunity to say thank you. He passed away a week ago from some complications following a hospital stay. Besides the massive loss I feel, I have no regrets. Though it's uncomfortable for me to express my personal feelings, I will never regret taking what ended up being a last chance to say what I had always wanted to say: Thanks for being there for me.

So here's my assignment for you... if someone has touched your life, tell them now. Don't wait. Acknowledge to them how they have changed your life. You will never regret taking the time to say thanks or tell someone you love them. The only words you will regret are the ones you didn’t take the time to say.


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Currahee!

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Last week the girls and I were up in Toccoa, Georgia, for Currahee Military Weekend. 

In my experience, Toccoa is one of America's most delightful hidden gems. It's one of the only places I can think of in our country where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the WWII Paratroopers and (for a brief time), re-live how it was during the war.

Local veteran, Dewitt Loudermilk holding a newspaper clipping about his service as an Engineer in WWII.

Local veteran, Dewitt Loudermilk holding a newspaper clipping about his service as an Engineer in WWII.

If you are up for it, you can run the mountain where our boys trained; visit the original barracks (currently being rebuilt), the depot where the fresh young men arrived, the museum with remarkable and historical artifacts; and talk to the wonderful folks who were kids at the time and grew up watching the paratroopers make their arrival, train, and depart for overseas... for some of them, never to return.

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The hospitality and genuineness of the people and the wonderful celebration they host each year remembering the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa comes together to make it one of the happiest weekends of the year for me.

Faith and 101st Airborne Veteran, Vince Speranza.

Faith and 101st Airborne Veteran, Vince Speranza.

Thank you to all our Toccoa friends who work so hard to put on such a splendid event!


Recap in Photos

Lady MacRobert's Reply

Lady MacRobert and her three sons.

Lady MacRobert and her three sons.

Here is a story of fortitude for you!

Upon the death of her three sons who had served in the RAF, Lady Rachel MacRobert sponsored a Stirling Bomber to be built and named "MacRobert's Reply."

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"It is my wish, as a mother, to reply in a way my sons would applaud - attack with great fire power, head on and hard. The amount of £25,000 is to buy a bomber aircraft to continue my sons' work in the most effective way. This expresses my feelings on receiving notice about my sons … Let the bomber serve where there is the most need of her and may luck be with those who fly her. If I had 10 sons, I know they all would have done service for their country."

But the lady's mission did not finish there. She went on to sponsor Four Hawker Hurricanes, three named after each of her sons, and the fourth entitled: “MacRobert’s Salute to Russia – The Lady”

Lady MacRobert is a magnificent example of the indomitable spirit of the British people during World War Two.


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"The War That Was Almost Forgotten"

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In June, we were treated to a special surprise by Battle of the Bulge veteran, Buck Sloan. From his thick Texas accent down to his shiny black cowboy boots, Buck is the real deal. At 94, he can pluck the guitar and sing a tune that takes you back to the days of the old Westerns. 

Buck and his adorable wife serenaded our group with old classics such as Rag Mop (Ames Brothers), and a few that he had written himself.  


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D-Day Ohio 2018

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For the last 5 years, D-Day Ohio has been one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year. This year our annual trip to Conneaut, Ohio nearly didn't happen, but it was too important for us to miss!

Since 2014, we have built some beautiful friendships with the veterans who gather at this fabulous event each year. 5 years later, health and age has seriously shrunk the ranks of the veterans, and it is our last time seeing some of them. And so, though our time was short this year, the relationships we've made with our Ohio and Pennsylvania vets was without a doubt worth the trip!

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R E E N A C T M E N T | Yes, D-Day Ohio is a reenactment and nearly 2,000 people come in period garb for the war years. But dressing in the style of WWII is also a helpful way of connecting with veterans. The clothing is familiar to them- maybe the dress you wear reminds them of a sister or mother, or in Honor's case, the same uniform and rank as their Navy days.

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A  G R A T E F U L   N A T I O N  |  Four veterans received France's highest award, the French Legion of Honor. During the ceremony, a representative from France, Consul General of France Guillaume Lacroix, gave a heartfelt speech thanking the veterans for the sacrifices they made for his country. To be honest... sometimes the politicians who grant these awards tend to ramble on about a million different things. But this time, I was captivated by his sincerity and genuine. It was a beautiful ceremony.

To read more about the legion of Honor Ceremony, France in the United States
Consulate General of France in Chicago:


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A  S I L V E R  S T A R | One of the happy surprises of Conneaut was to see my friend, Major Turner, again! Back in June, I went with the Major and The Best Defense Foundation to Normandy for the 74th Anniversary. Over the course of the 10 day trip, I was incredibly impressed by Major Turner. At 99, he is independent, strong, and always carried himself like a complete gentleman. 

During World War Two, Major Turner served as an Engineer platoon leader with the 2nd Armored Division in Europe. Though he tells everyone he fought the war from a jeep and never fired a shot, it should be known that he received the Silver Star for meritorious actions during a particular engagement with the Germans when he (then a lieutenant I believe) and his men were clearing a roadblock under heavy from the enemy. The Silver Star is the third highest medal that can be awarded a United States serviceman.


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S U P E R  S E N I O R S | Richard C. is one of my favorite examples of a super senior. He is 87 and still rides his motorcycle from Ohio to Florida every fall. I'm sure his vibrant Italian personality has something to do with that.

He also carries photos with him from his time in Korea with the 8th Armored Division, 155 Self Propelled Gun [Tanker], because one time a lady told him he didn't look old enough. "And I most certainly was!" he declared.

I hope we can all enjoy our lives the way Richard does - to the max.


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I N   C O M E S  T H E  C A V A L R Y | Anyone who has met Al Klugiewicz knows what I mean when I say he is a gem. 102 years old and he still drives (he got his license renewed at 100), he can sing you countless old Polish songs, play the ukelele, and I can always count on him for solid boyfriend and marriage advice.

Something else special about Al... he is also one of the very last of the US Cavalry Corps. Yes, the horse cavalrymen. A few years ago he told us his job was to work the radios - on horseback. It wasn't too difficult once you got used to it. In 1938, after 4 years service, he was discharged, but he re-enlisted once again in February 1941. When war came around he fought with the 83rd Infantry Division all through Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

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Catching up with him on Saturday, Al showed me a photo from his recent unit reunion, cutting a rug out on the dance floor. A moment later when I pulled out my lipstick to reapply, he told me not to over do it. "Girls always put too much on," he said. "Would you like some?" I joked, offering it to him. "No," said Al. "I only wear Cavalry yellow."


If you've never been to D-Day Ohio, put it on your to-do list. You'll be so glad.


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Bryan Smothers: 101st Airborne

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Monday night, we were so shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of our friend, the ever-delightful Bryan Smothers.

During the 3 years Bryan served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, his experiences forever changed him and the innocence of his boyhood was forever lost. It took many, many years for him to overcome the memories and hardships that war had left on him. When he finally began to write his story down (something he did so his daughter could understand her dad better) it was the road to healing.

Through his book and talks, Bryan was able to help countless other Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD move forward and begin to enjoy life again.

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Our visits with him each year at the Wings Over Houston Airshow were so looked forward to... chatting about the Airborne, the Civil War, music, White Chickens (the name the Vietnamese gave the Airborne) and everything from the serious to the ridiculous. He will be greatly missed.

A Story for the Coast Guard Birthday

PC. Jocelyne Paris

PC. Jocelyne Paris

Happy 228th birthday to the United States Coast Guard, and this very darling Combat Coastie, Jack.

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On June 6th, 1944, Jack had a rope tied around his waist as he swam the chilly waters of the D-Day Beaches, collecting dead and wounded soldiers. His unit, Rescue Flotilla One, managed to save more 400 men on that day.

“The current was going 15 to 20 mph coming out of the North Sea. That channel had a terrible current and you’d go to reach for a soldier and tried to save him and they’d wash away from you... We did get a hold of some of them,” added Hamlin. “But they’d either have an arm gone or half their face blown off. It was the sickest thing you ever wanted to see. Pulling them out of the water was the worst thing in the world." / Hamlin and his fellow rescuers braved 48-degree water, jumping in to haul out soldiers and airmen. By the time Rescue Flotilla One was decommissioned in December 1944 they had saved 1,438 souls" [excerpt from Coast Guard Compass: Official Blog of the US Coast Guard.]

Two years ago, Jack (then 95) thought it would be a good idea to go sky diving. Now age 97, he hasn't lost one bit of charm and continues to be a stellar example of the courage of the US Coast Guard.


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The Bombs Bursting in Air: A short story for the 4th of July

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Sharing this story from a couple of years ago... a little something to get you in the mood for Independence day.


"Do you remember the lines in the National Anthem? About the 'rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air??

Lt. Col. Tom Kalus is one of those very rare Marines who happened to be a participant in two of the greatest moments in Marine Corps history: the Battle of Iwo Jima (WW2) and the Chosin Reservoir (Korea). Both events are known for their intensity of the fighting and the bravery of the Marines against unbelievable odds.

Shortly after I met Col. Kalus, he related a story to me which remains one of my favorite ones I can remember a veteran telling me... 


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One evening of the Marine reunion we both attended a few years ago, Col. Kalus asked me, "Do you remember the lines in the National Anthem? About the 'rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air?"

Of course! Who can forget those inspiring lines written by Francis Scott Key and sung so often at sports events and holidays.

"When I was on Iwo," he went on, "About the 3rd or 4th night, the Japs gave us a real hard shelling. One of the wisecracks in my foxhole said, 'Hey look, it's like in the song, the bombs bursting in air.' I didn't pay much attention to him at the time, until one night at Chosin. The 7th Marines were bravely taking a hill and the Chinese were giving them everything they'd got. The sky was filled with explosions and fireworks. I remembered what the Marine had said on Iwo, 'and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.' At that moment I realized that I was seeing what Francis Scott Key had seen when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner."

Oh goodness, if there was ever a story to put the chills on your arms. Mr. Kalus got teary-eyed as he finished by saying that he could never listen to the American Anthem again without thinking of those fearful nights at Iwo Jima and Chosin. I know I never will listen to it again the same.

O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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And More Honor Flight (anecdotes from a week with my vets)

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Following Armed Forces Day, thanks to the kindness of dear friends and family, I was able to stay in the D.C. area for another week and a half greeting Honor Flights that came in. During that time, I was privileged to meet a grand total of 22 Flights and nearly 1,350 veterans (ages 70-101) from all over the United States. If the numbers sound crazy, they are a little. But 100% true. That is the beauty of Honor Flight. It brings together an incredible group of Americans for a united cause. A 100 year old Flyboy wants to see his Memorials in D.C.? Honor Flight can do it!

Here are "just a few" of my favorite moments from Honor Flight Week.

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H U M I L I T Y / If you ask pretty much any WW2 veteran about his service in the war, he will probably tell you (with genuine modesty), "I was only doing what we had to do."

B-24 waist gunner, Mr. H., was even a little more self-deprecating than that when he told me that the 9 months he spent in a German POW camp was, "nothing compared to some of the other guys." Despite the lack of food and poor living he experienced at the hand of the Germans (who were themselves starving), he just didn't think it was that significant. Especially, he said, compared to other POWS like Senator John McCain.

Whether he considers himself to be worthy of the title POW or not is for him to decide. But there is no doubt that this man served our country bravely and well. It was an honor to meet this humble American. 


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Queen City Honor Flight has their hands full with this hilarious and energetic 92 year old. His Guardian and I could not stop laughing the entire time. He told me the three ways to get to his age were:
1. Don't get no tattoos.
2. Don't drink.
3. And, well... we'll leave it at that. 

(He added that I better get my life in order quick).

And during the war...? "The Navy didn't want me so they sent me to Florida." Where he "fought the Battle of the Mosquitoes. They were mighty big and tough!"


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Notes from May 27:

Yesterday while we were greeting Space Coast Honor Flight I spotted one of the veterans wearing his original USMC pins and rank on his name tag. Of course I had to stop and talk with him - Marine alert!!
Mr. Mahoney told me a little about his service (taking basic at "Par-adise Island"), and after we had compared notes on the Marine Corps and talked about our mutual love of this splendid branch, he presented me with his Honor Flight challenge coin!! I was blown away. Something I will treasure greatly. Semper fi!

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For some Honor Flight veterans, the trip is a pilgrimage, more in honor and memory of their fathers' service than recognition for themselves. In speaking with this sweet North Carolina veteran, I was particularly moved by his purpose coming to D.C. Mr. A's father had served in the Navy in World War Two and had been a great inspiration to him growing up. So much so, that he too had joined the Navy, wearing the same uniform his father had worn before him.

When Mr. A. had a son of his own, he hoped that he too would follow in the steps of father and grandfather, becoming the 3rd generation to wear the Navy uniform. The uniform was even a perfect fit. But his dreams were crushed when his bright 22 year-old was killed in a car accident.

For Mr. A., yes, Honor Flight was a chance for his long over-due service to be recognized. But more importantly, it was an opportunity for him to personally pay tribute to his own father and hero.


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This is 3-war veteran Harry Miller. Mr. Miller told me that 60 days after he retired from the Army in 1966, he received notification from his local draft board that he had to register for the draft. Enlisting in the Army at 15 years old, Harry had never had time to register. Fighting in Europe in World War II, already in the Army in Korea, as well as early Vietnam, he was already in! But they insisted.

So after a 22+ year career in the army, he signed up for the draft. Thankfully, he was never called up again. 

Harry also told me that after serving in a tank battalion in World War II, he lost most of his hearing.  "I lost my hearing after... probably the first shell was fired," he said. "And it took five years before the ringing stopped in my ears."

I had first met Harry a couple of weeks earlier when I was in D.C. with Greater Peoria Honor Flight, and had the pleasure of running into him again on Memorial Day! He told me that I should carry an umbrella around so I could really be the Statue of Liberty. A terrific guy, and one of America's finest soldiers!


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Finally, in preparation for Memorial Day, the USAA Traveling Poppy Wall had come to D.C. 645,000 poppies representing every American serviceman killed from World War I to the present. Truly, nothing could prepare for its visual power. Thousands upon thousands of poppies. 

I walked around the corner and had to catch my breath. All I could wonder was how many Gold Star family members were represented by each poppy...

If you have a family member, friend, or friend of a friend who was killed in the service of our country, I highly recommend you check out their website and possibly even dedicate a poppy. Click here to learn more: https://poppyinmemory.usaacloud.com/

645,000 poppies, 645,000 servicemen. This is why we have a Memorial Day.

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Armed Forces Day / Honor Flight Super Saturday

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President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country. On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days. The single day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense. - AFD.defense.gov

It would not be a proper May without a Super Saturday at the WWII Memorial. Over the last few years, this has become an unintentional tradition (and one that I'm most happy to continue into the future!), as each May some or all of us end up in D.C. just in time for a Super Saturday.

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Notes from May 19:

Armed Forces Day / Despite the dreary skies, spirits and energy were high at the National World War II Memorial today as we welcomed 9 Honor Flights from all over the country, Oregon to New York!! At one point, we even had 3 full flights invade the Memorial at the same time - the happiest and most wonderful organized chaos. I can think of no better way to spend this special day recognizing our troops. It was an honor. Love our vets so much!!


PC: Hudson Valley HF

PC: Hudson Valley HF

For those new to Operation Meatball or unfamiliar with the way Honor Flight works, Super Saturdays are days when an unusually large number of Honor Flights arrive at the memorials in D.C. Though all Honor Flight days are magical in their own way, Super Saturdays are overwhelmingly awesome.

From 8:30 in the morning to around 4:30 in the afternoon, it's a constant barrage of veterans, guardians, and wheelchairs.  Each State brings their own personality, stories, and hilarity. Handshakes, hugs, greetings... before you know it, the day is over, and you are exhausted, but so, so happy.

The Armed Forces Day Super Saturday brought in a whopping 9 flights from around the country, equaling between 800 and 900 veterans! Below are just a few snippets from the day.


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Enjoyed a nice chat with the sweet Mr. Bartram from Oregon. He was a Medic with the Marine Corps from 1951-1952, assigned to a Machine gun unit. Always an honor to meet our brave medics! 

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This adorable swabby spent some time explaining to me how "The Sea Bees won the war!"

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You never know who will turn up on a Super Saturday! Such a pleasure to meet General James Mattis, Secretary of Defense. Of course we had to talk about Iwo Jima.

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When I met Mr. Hastings, he was wearing the Honor Flight Smile to the max. He told me how he was only on this trip thanks to a random woman who approached him in Walmart and said, "Have you ever heard of Honor Flight?" Shortly after he was signed up and on his flight, and loving every moment of it!

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We managed to round up [most] of the Marines from Honor Flight Columbus because you know... it's the Marines. ❤

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It's pretty great when you run into folks you know through Honor Flight...or their relatives! I met Mr. Miller's uncle "Moon" Miller in Normandy a few years ago!

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Always a delight for the vets to have Senator Dole come out to the Memorial.

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The Boys Scouts were a great addition to the day, handing out mini American Flags to the veterans.

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And the best dressed award goes to... 


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Visits with the Vets

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In a large way, personal visits with the vets are the heart and soul of Operation Meatball. When the girls and I first started OM as a project 4 years ago, we wanted to use it as a way to encourage, thank, and remind WWII veterans that we are still a grateful nation, that their service to our country has not been forgotten, that they have not become obsolete to society, and that their age only makes them more valuable to us.

We did this through music, dressing in the style of their sisters and wives back in the 1940s, recording their stories, letters, or just taking them out to a meal. 

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However, brief encounters at events quickly grew into friendships, and as the veterans aged, it became more important to visit them in their homes or places of retirement where they could share stories from the comfort of their favorite chair, pull out old photos from pre-war days, or maybe just listen to their favorite Big Band cd. 

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Sometimes it's a quick hello and dropping off some sweets, and other times it's a 3-hour reviewing of war-time scrapbooks. Whatever the case, these "fireside chats" are the most precious of memories.

Recently, I called one of my Iwo vets who I hadn't seen in a while due to travel on both sides. "Come on over," he said. "I'm just here."

I popped over with the complete intention of seeing if I could take him out for a bite to eat, but when I arrived, he was in his favorite recliner, watching an old western. After the usual greetings, he ordered me to, "Sit down and watch the western." Was I hungry? Did I like enchiladas? (I must add, these are his famously delicious enchiladas) Could he make me some?

"Don't you want to finish the movie?" I asked.

"Oh," he said in his West Texas accent, "I've seen this a bunch of times... I know the ending."

How could I refuse such an offer... Within a few minutes, we were eating enchiladas and watching an Audie Murphy western. "He's my hero," my friend said. When the movie was over, and half the settlers had been killed by the Indians and half the Indians had been killed by the settlers, he declared to me that this was his favorite love story.


There is no way to put a value on visiting World War II veterans in their homes, where they are most peaceful, surrounded by memories of a full life, and so desiring to share those memories with someone who really cares. 


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"I've never forgotten them - I never will." / Memorial Day 2018

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Each year people write extensively about the meaning behind Memorial Day. I've written a few posts in the past similarly... but this year I just want to share some brief moments from my first Memorial Day in DC. 

To be honest, I didn't plan on spending this solemn holiday in D.C., for no reason other than I had different plans. But before the day was half over, I wouldn't have traded a precious minute of it to be somewhere else.

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For instance, I listened to a 14 year old Korean-American publicly thank the men who liberated his grandparents back in 1951, and pledge over $800 of his personal savings to the memorial that was in tribute of these liberators. He dedicated a flag to his hero, a WWII/Korean War Paratrooper who had lost both an arm and a leg fighting for that boy's country. Such articulate honor from a young man was completely inspiring. By the end of his speech (entitled "This I Believe"), I'm sure I wasn't the only one trying to keep back the tears.


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At the Vietnam Wall, letters were left for passersby to read. Letters expressing all emotions. Heartbreak, anger, bitterness, forgiveness, love, and gratitude. One read, 

Hello,

I graduated from high school in 1970. My brother (Daniel) was drafted in 1967. When I dated some of the men who had just received their draft cards, they told me they would "probably" die in the war... I tried to comfort them and told them I was very proud of them. 

I know some were killed, because they didn't return. A few of them came to my house and asked me what they should do - because they were weighing whether or not to go. I could only tell them to do as their knowledge told them what they felt was the right thing to do. 

I've never visited The Wall in Washington, D.C., but I am traveling to that area this September, and I won't be afraid if I see some names I recognize. These men died for me and also for all the people in America. They did not die in vain.

I've never forgotten them - I never will.

Ms. Frank (Daniel's sister)


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Without getting too heady and philosophical, I truly believe there are seasons and holidays which act as a natural conduit for humans to interact with each other. Maybe we shouldn't need it, but they give us an excuse to talk to strangers and step out of our comfort zone without the usual "awkwardness."

On this day, something about the meaningful solemnity of it gave off a bit of this warmth and affability. Even an openness to share difficult stories with complete strangers. 

Throughout the afternoon, I found myself listening to heart-wrenching stories from veterans I'd only met minutes before, as they told me about war, of friends they'd lost, pointing to the names on the wall, or showing me their photographs.

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Notes from May 29:

I met 173rd Airborne veteran, Samuel, at the Vietnam Wall yesterday. He had been in D.C. with his reunion the last week and decided to stay an extra day to visit the wall for the very first time.

As all Texans eventually meet up (he was from Austin and I from San Antonio), we got to talking. I asked him about the name his son and he had just pointed out, Charles Watters.

He spoke softly and thoughtfully as he told me that in the few weeks before Thanksgiving, 1967, his unit had had a fierce fight with the VC. The casualties on both sides were enormous, and over 143 paratroopers were killed. He made it out himself, but he never forgot those couple of weeks.

In years afterwards, every Thanksgiving as his family gathered together, before the meal started, he would remind his sons, "We must always be grateful to the 143 boys who didn't make it back."

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A little while later, Samuel came up and showed me a picture. "This was my friend," he said, "I'm looking for his name down on that end. Everybody thought we looked just alike. He was a great guy. But he wasn't supposed to be killed. It wasn't supposed to happen." And he explained to me that one night in Vietnam, they'd heard noises coming from an area a little ways away. It was someone else's job to check it out, but his friend was too curious and had jumped up to see what it was. He was instantly hit.

"I tried to visit the Traveling Wall when it came to our area a couple of times..." he said. "But I just couldn't do it..."

Samuel is just one of many veterans I talked to at the Wall yesterday. Many of them with stories very similar to his.

Being with a veteran when he makes his first visit to the wall is very moving. It's a vulnerable time for them because all their barriers are suddenly taken away, and all they are left with are the raw feelings and emotions of the moment, of seeing so many thousands of names in stone, and among them their friend. But at the same time, it's beautiful to watch. To see the names remembered and the Veterans of this tragic war finding peace and healing.


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On a somewhat lighter note, it was a thrill and an honor to meet Mr. Kyung Kim, one of the brave ROK (Republic of Korea) Marines who served with our guys in Korea. And you know what, whether you're an ROK Marine or a United States Marine, a Marine is a Marine!

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Throughout the day, I kept running into these lovely fellows representing the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Angelo Wider (left) enlisted in the Army in 1964 and served with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He was nearly fatally wounded in 1966, but the bullet missed his vital organs, saving his life. He left the service in 1967.

Felix Garcia (right) of Texas is a three-time Purple Heart recipient. He served with the 1st Marine Division, and was wounded at Al Karmah and Fallujah. He's the Junior Vice Commander at the Military Order of the Purple Heart Association.


Click on the below photos for a full description

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Memorial Day is always meaningful for me, even as I remember my great-great Uncle Israel Goldberg who died overseas in 1942. But this Memorial Day was especially so. The openness strangers and veterans felt sharing their personal stories with me left me greatly touched.

I also saw again and again that gratitude is a universal language. From a 14 year-old boy speaking to his hero, to the wrinkled hand of a visiting foreigner thanking one of our veterans. Gratitude is beautiful.

And finally, in the minds of many of the veterans who participated in the various wars and conflicts America has taken part in the last 70+ years, every day is Memorial Day. If that is the case, it's only appropriate to take at least one day out of 365 to remember the boys who are "forever young."


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Greater Peoria Honor Flight / May 8, 2018

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The month of May was truly Honor Flight month for Operation Meatball. Immediately following the Chino Air Show (which I talked about last post), OM began a whirl-wind trip to Peoria, Illinois.

Just a few weeks earlier, I had received a text from my dear friend (and Operation Meatball board member) Phyllis Piraino of Greater Peoria Honor Flight that they had a spot for me on their May 8th Flight. I was beyond ecstatic. As you all know, I LOVE working with Honor Flight, and there are few hubs I'd rather fly with than Greater Peoria. They were our very first Honor Flight nearly four years ago, and because of that, we share a special bond with them. 

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Notes from May 7:

 

Nearly 4 years ago we met our first Honor Flight at the WWII Memorial: Greater Peoria Honor Flight (GPHF). Today I got to see our very first Honor Flight vet, Bob L-, and tomorrow I fly out with GPHF for their V-E Day Honor Flight. Excited doesn't even begin to describe it. But it's a start. We have a bright and early start in the AM, so DC peeps: stay tuned for some pretty happy vets about to head your way!

 
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The night before a trip, GPHF hosts a Pre-Flight Dinner. This is a wonderful opportunity for the vets to get together, meet, break the ice, give any final information for the trip the next day, and enjoy a hearty meal!

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The details that go into this dinner are numerous. In fact, this is one of the things we first noticed about GPHF which sets it apart: their attention to detail and community effort. It isn't a millionaire who sends the vets to D.C., it is the hard work of the local community. During the last school year alone, students from grade schools in Peoria raised $106,480 to send their heroes, the veterans of the Greater Peoria area, to DC!! This is just incredible.

From the adorable goody bags decorated by local children, to the incredible pre-flight dinner, the veterans can't help but feel completely loved and honored for their service.


Flight Day!

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Mornings are early with Honor Flight, but the energy is always high enough to make up for it. First comes check-in, then photos, followed by the easiest trip through security that you'll ever experience. 

Popping around, asking the vets if they were ready for the day, I heard from one of our Korean War vets that he had already had the most wonderful time, and he didn't know how it could get better. "Wait a minute! You can't say that," I told him. "It's 4:30 am in the morning, and we haven't even left Peoria yet." But he insisted. His cup was almost filled up with the happiness he had experienced in the last 24 hours. "Just you wait..." was all I could tell him, and I had to leave him contentedly thinking it couldn't get better. 

Coffee and donuts provided by the Salvation Army, the National Anthem played by two darling little girls on the violin, and we are off!! 


Arrival in DC!

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Whenever an Honor Flight lands in D.C., the entire terminal is notified, and everything is put on hold to greet these heroes with handshakes, clapping, even a little music. Of course, the vets are not expecting this, and I'm pretty sure I saw a couple of moist eyes among the group.


National World War Two Memorial

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First Stop: The National World War Two Memorial for the May 8, V-E Day Program. This was extra special for our group as we had 7 World War Two veterans on this flight who were invited to participate in the ceremony. 

Photo credit: Greater Peoria Honor Flight

Needless to say, the memorials never get old ~ each visit is a new experience, a new memory. But visiting the WWII Memorial with WWII vets, and on such a significant anniversary as May 8, the end of World War Two... it's really hard to beat that.

Some of the WWII vets presented the wreaths for the VE Day ceremony.

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Sunny and warm, but a perfect day. And these two kept us smiling the entire day.

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I always love to see the veterans getting together and chatting... no longer strangers.

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Two of our WWII,s. 

Photo Credit: The fabulous Tami Stieger 

Photo Credit: The fabulous Tami Stieger 

Surprise visit from a few of my BWI Brownies!


The Vietnam Wall

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Each memorial holds a special significance to me... the Vietnam Wall is no exception. For the sake of time, I'll just share one story with you from this emotional memorial...

Notes from May 12 / A highlight from Greater Peoria Honor Flight's trip on Tuesday was visiting the Vietnam wall with our Nam vets. I was able to help Archie find a few of his friends' names (many of them childhood friends)... but the most touching moment came when he told me the story of an officer of his who's name is on the wall:

It was Friday the 13th. Archie and 12 other men were on a patrol in Vietnam. Communications were poor and before he knew it they were being fired on - by their own men. They had unknowingly run into a brother unit who took them for VC. In a matter of moments, every man in his 13-man patrol was wounded, and the officer (fresh out of OTS) was killed. It is one of the tragic accidents of war, and sadly there are too many stories similar to Archie's.

Each visit to the wall is uniquely special... but this is one I will remember for a long time. 


Air Force Memorial

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I ended up spending the entire time at the Air Force Memorial listening as this kind and gentle man, Mr. Avery, explained to me how meaningful this whole experience had been for him. At the end of the day, as we disembarked from the plane back in Peoria, his eyes were full of tears. No words needed to translate that.


Welcome Home

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Moving forward because it's impossible to capture every moment in one blogpost (those of you who suffered through our post[s] several years ago when the girls and I were guardians for two 95 year-old Air Force vets know what I'm talking about)... The Welcome-Home.

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I've never teared up at a Welcome-Home before. But I certainly did here (I'll just blame it on Mr. Avery for getting me started). I walked down the line taking photos of the countless people holding signs, cheering the veterans, hugging and kissing, thanking the veterans, the bagpipes, the families greeting their loved ones... I'm still getting chokey thinking about it.

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Honestly, this was the best Welcome-Home I've ever been to. I'm not good at estimated numbers, but I can say that the entire airport terminal was packed (and I mean PACKED) with people. 

The entire day was a magical one for our vets, and I'm afraid I've only been able to give you a few inadequate highlights. The work that goes into each flight is just enormous, and I can't say enough about the whole GPHF crew, who are really the heart and soul of this Honor Flight hub! And the biggest hug and thanks to Phyllis for including me! 

Finally, the number one word that comes to mind with Honor Flight is Healing. Whether it is tough memories that won't fade, or possibly hard feelings over long overdue recognition, these dear men, who served our country in good times and in bad, come home with a new feeling of respect, healing, and value. 


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