Day is done. Gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well. Safely rest.
God is nigh.
Those are the lyrics to the first verse of Taps. The words are beautiful, and I loved singing them every week at the close of my Girl Scout meeting.
The melody, however, is a different matter entirely. The melody, though beautiful, has a haunting quality, especially when played by a bugler at the end of a military funeral while mourners gaze at the flag-draped coffin.
Last month, I replayed that scene three times in a span of ten days when my hometown received three hard blows in quick succession. We lost three genuine heroes from World War II, Lt. Col. William Joseph (Bill Joe) Sugg, Sr. (Air Force, Ret.), James Arthur Peace (Army), and Col. James Edward (Red) Smith (Air Force, Ret.).
Mr. Bill Joe was a B-17 co-pilot, survived fourteen months in a German POW camp, and participated in the Berlin Air Lift. During his twenty-two years of service, he earned many medals and commendations including a Purple Heart.
Mr. James earned five battle stars for participation in the European theater including landing on Utah Beach with the Normandy invasion on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.
Col. Red’s impressive military career included serving in WWII as well as Vietnam and serving five years on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His numerous medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After serving their country during wartime, these men came home and continued to serve in their hometown with involvement in their churches as well as community organizations. Mr. Bill Joe volunteered with the Lions Club as member and as an officer. Mr. James was a Shriner, a Princeton volunteer fireman and a Town Councilman. Col. Red was a member of the Lion’s Club and volunteered for several years with the Babe Ruth baseball league and with the Princeton Veterans Committee.
These men didn’t rest on their laurels and certainly didn’t tout their achievements. They weren’t part of the Me Generation. They were members of the Greatest Generation, and my town was blessed to have them.
Yesterday, I visited in the hospital with my great uncle, Leon Howell who’s battling pneumonia. He was stationed on the USS Vega at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Yes, that’s right—a Pearl Harbor survivor. His story is available at http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/10470226. (The title is Garner Resident Remembers Pearl Harbor.) I’m considering making a sign—Pearl Harbor Survivor—to hang on his door so that people will know they’re caring for a hero.
Much discussion has centered on WWII veteran, Louis Zamperini lately. I’ve read his fascinating biography, Unbroken, and seen the movie adaptation. In fact, the book should be required reading for every American citizen.
Mr. Zamperini was a great American, no doubt, but we don’t have to read a book or watch a movie to find out about real American heroes. Many members of the Greatest Generation are still living among us. We still have time to visit with these people, listen to their stories, learn about real history—say, “thank you.”
Who’re the heroes living near you?
They’ll be so happy you did.
And you will, too.