One of my favorite parts of meeting and talking with veterans of the Second World War is hearing my sister Faith sing to them and watching their responses. Some sit thoughtfully, others tear up, but the best is when they sing with her. Recently, while we were in Conneaut, Ohio, for the D-Day Reenactment, this happened several times. Faith would begin White Cliffs of Dover, We'll Meet Again, or some other classic from their time, and suddenly out of nowhere we would hear a wonderfully rusty voice chiming in, singing along with her.
One such veteran was Mr. Arthur Engelberg. At the ripe age of 99 1/2 (he made sure we didn't forget that extra half), Mr. Engelberg is the very picture of the engaging, robust, World War II veteran. He told us that he rises every morning, looks at himself in the mirror and says, "Thank you, God, for a new day, -and thank you for making me better looking everyday." There was a sparkle in his eyes and a bit of a leprechaun in him as he signed my newspaper, "Brad Pitt." He said that his key to life is a grateful attitude.
Moments like these are really quite thrilling to me when they occur, bringing us back briefly into a bygone era. Today there is not much connection with the WWII generation. My generation listens to different music, wears different clothes, and has entirely different interests. "Fun" used to mean playing outside, even if that was just marching around with paper hats for crowns and sticks for scepters, or kicking a ball in the street with friends. Not so today. Now, fun means chatting every spare moment on a smart phone or playing the latest Playstation or Xbox game.
All of this does not help to bridge the gap between our generations, and it is easy to forget that yes, they were once young like us, too. We may think their music is out of date or old-fashioned, but it isn't for them. The music that is considered old fashioned or retro was at the top of the charts in their day. The movies that are labeled out of date, or not interesting enough, were the box-office hits of their time.
All this to say how important it is for us to understand the time they grew up in, the culture that formed their identity, and all that made them who they are today. WWII veterans are some of the most interesting people I have ever met. They have richness of experience and perspective from decades of life that we would be wise to learn from. We have found that when Faith sings to them, a gap is bridged and a connection is made that goes deeper than what an ordinary conversation could do. It seems to say, "I want to identify with you because I care about you; because you are valuable." And they appreciate it so much. Not every one can sing the songs of WWII (I can't for sure), but there are so many ways to show that you are interested in their life, that you want to learn from them, and that you are grateful for their sacrifice. Whatever effort you make is paid back ten-fold when you see their faces. Life is just so much richer for both.