Dining with the Greatest Generation
Every now and then something unexpected comes along and it gives you a new appreciation for the life you lead. In this case, it was a reminder of fortunate we are that a generation of men and women rose to the call and defended us and our allies with a clear cut mandate to make the world a better place. They succeeded beyond belief and we enjoy much thanks to them.
I haven’t encountered all that many World War II vets along my travels. Sure, a handful of comic professionals served and spoke about it, but not often and never at length, as seemed to be the case for most of those who served. As a result, when my cousin Alan called with an invitation, I jumped at it.
He recently ran across a group known as Honor Flight, a national network that raises funds and arranges trips for the 16,000 living veterans to come to Washington, D.C. and see the memorial in their honor. Each vet is accompanied by a guardian who pays for the privilege of joining them. When Alan discovered this group and got involved, he went in with gusto and wound up accompanying Sam Miller, a spry 88 year old, from Arizona (that’s him bottom left).
The group pf 50 or so arrived at BWI airport yesterday and Deb and I were invited to join them for dinner. These men, many in wheelchairs and stooped with age, were treated with dignity and high honors. As they departed Arizona in the wee hours of the day, fire trucks gave them a water salute. The captains of both legs of the flight acknowledged their presence and ignited rounds of applause. People stopped to applaud at Chicago as they changed planes and another fire truck salute awaited them in Baltimore.
We were seated with Sam, complete with iPad and smartphone; Roscoe, originally from Missouri (n blue); Ted (not pictured); and, Wally (in white jacket). Despite the decades since their enlistment, they could carefully detail where they reported, where they trained, where and when they were stationed. Sam wound up with just enough technical skill from a temporary job that he stayed in Brooklyn, commuting from the family home in the Bronx. As a result, he always felt the honor should never be his since he didn’t go overseas (except a train trip through Mexico). We kept telling him he put on the uniform and went where ordered and did his part. Wally was in a band when not cleaning up towns throughout Europe, seeking snipers in the wake of Germany’s collapse. Roscoe was on a boat headed for Japan when the first atomic bomb was dropped. Ted also served in the Pacific but was reticent to say much about it.
In their years after the war, they went to work with Sam running a successful independent pharmacy in Manhattan. Wally wound up on the road (too much he says) as a pharmaceutical sales rep, introducing doctors and pharmacists to new creations including Chapstick or Vitamin E.
Alan (in red shirt), Deb, and I were enthralled as they told stories and compared backgrounds, postings, and the like. We ate our meat loaf, rice, and peas, barely needing to pose a question to get them going. Bill (in orange shirt), one of the organizers, told me that Baltimore sometimes gets 2-3 flights a day from all around the country. Every time, the men and women receive recognition and applause for having served.
Today, their reveille was at 0630 and by 0830 they were on their way into Washington to see the WW II memorial and as many others – notably Korea and Vietnam — as time permitted. They had an appointment to see the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and I am told there were some surprises in store. Expecting them to be worn from the full schedule, the final surprise was Mail Call on the bus ride back to the hotel. Students from around Arizona had composed letters of thanks, with at least one letter per veteran.
What an amazing program, one worthy of support. It was also a truly memorable experience, something I am pleased to have been a small part of.