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Tribute to a Veteran

Friday, November 2nd, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments

East TN Mountain ViewsBy Judy Irmen

My father was among the rapidly diminishing number of World War II veterans. His was a generation that did not discuss combat experiences and kept those experiences locked up unless specifically asked about them. My father related that he had a job to do, and all he was doing was fulfilling his job responsibilities. He felt he was not special, but just a soldier carrying out his duties.

My husband, who is a World War II enthusiast and a former army veteran himself, would ask my dad questions about his army days, and little by little, I learned more of my dad’s military experiences from the answers to those questions. There were also old photos stored in boxes that showed my dad in his army uniform in various European locations. Being a person of detail, my dad labeled the photos with dates and locations, which made his military days easier for me to piece together. But still there were pieces of his service that remained inside of him.

Shortly before my dad passed away and during one of those army conversations with my husband, my dad revealed that he had been one of the many that landed at Normandy on D-Day. What a surprise that revelation was for us, and it was very emotional for him to relate what he felt and saw.

In planning my dad’s funeral, I wanted to honor his service by having a military honor guard at the cemetery. The flag folding and gun salute brought tears to my eyes, and I know my dad would not have chosen to be so honored, as he simply was a solder doing his job. But his being a part of that D-Day invasion and placing his life on the line was a sacrifice worthy of a full military tribute.

When Tom and I were planning a recent trip to France, we specifically chose to visit the Normandy beaches. At Omaha Beach where the Americans landed, there is now a huge memorial honoring all those Americans who served in that invasion and who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives. Visiting Omaha Beach and viewing the thousands of crosses was very emotional. I knew my dad served with some of those men who now were memorialized by a plain cross marking their place in history. It truly was a sobering sight to view those grounds given to the United States by the French and now meticulously maintained by the U.S. Any American who has the chance to visit the Normandy beaches in France and who understands the sacrifice of the men laying in rest there should feel a sense of pride for their country and deep appreciation for those who gave their all in service to their country. I was always proud of my dad, but visiting Omaha Beach and knowing what my dad experienced gave me an even greater sense of pride for my father and his service.

During our trip, we happened to be in a small shop in a rural town in the Normandy area, and the French owners asked about our travels. We related why we chose to visit Normandy, and the shop owner, in his best English, sincerely thanked me for my dad’s service and the role he played in saving his country. It was a heartfelt thank you, and one I will always remember.

This Veterans Day, stop and remember all those through history that have served and continue to serve their country. Thank a veteran for their service, honor the memory of a fallen veteran, and give those in service the respect that is due them.

As my father said, “We were just doing our job. We were nothing special.” But to those of us whose freedoms you have helped to safeguard and continue to safeguard, you will always be very special.

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