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the giants are dying


ww II

The experts tell us that the remaining WWII veterans are dying at the rate of nearly 1,000 a day.  When I was newly in practice over twenty years ago, I treated scores of these vets.  Not so now.  It’s a sad thought, but with the youngest of these men approaching 90 years old, it won’t be long before they are all gone. 

Maybe it’s because my mom lost her father while she was still an infant (the Ardennes Forrest in Belgium —- the Battle of the Bulge), but I have always been a student of the Second World War.  I probably have about 200 books on the subject in my personal library.  But sitting and talking with these men as they open up about their experiences, and listening to what they went through to keep this nation free has always been a privilege; something truly unforgettable.  Yesterday I was talking with an elderly woman whose husband is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.  I relayed a story about her husband’s brother that she had never heard before. 

This man was stuck in a foxhole somewhere in the South Pacific (maybe Guadalcanal) for the better part of two weeks.  It rained the entire time, and he and the rest of his company’s clothes and boots were literally rotting off of them.  They all had varying degrees of Malaria and Dysentery, and were covered with a wide range of skin conditions collectively called, “Jungle Rot”.  As he came out of his hole for an attack, a Japanese shell hit close by and knocked him down.  He said it felt like someone had hit him in the chest with a baseball bat.  He looked down, and there in his the front pocket of his shirt, embedded in the cigarette tin where he kept his Testament, was a jagged, smoking, hunk of shrapnel about the size of a shooter marble.  It had literally buried itself in the pages of his Bible.  He brought it in and I got to actually hold it in my hands.  His Bible kept the shrapnel from going through his heart!

I treated a quiet, unassuming farmer who was a tank commander in Europe.   He went through 5 different Shermans over the course of the war.  One would get blown up, and if you survived, they gave you another one and told you to get down the road.  I knew a gentleman who flew scores of bombing missions in both Europe and the South Pacific.  I spoke with a patient one day who told me a story about one of our local pastors.  It seems that these two friends who ended up in the same company, wound up together in the Far East and traveled across North Korea together in an old wooden box car.  They told me that they have never felt anything so cold in their life.  I have heard heartbreaking stories of loss, and dramatic stories of courage too many times to count. 

The men that came home, got married, had families, worked all sorts of jobs, went to church, built their communities, and never complained or felt like the world owed them anything.  They were thankful to be alive.  We could all take a lesson.  Thank a veteran today, and remember those fallen heroes that never made it home.  Most of that generation — the ‘Greatest Generation’ — was a hero.  We could all take a lesson.  The giants are dying.


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