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.
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.
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.