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Giving Thanks to the Quietly Courageous

Have you thanked a veteran today?

I woke to distant gunfire and shouting; not panic, but intensity. My hand brushed against my very fluffy, very small dog, nestled by my side and sleeping soundly, and I opened my eyes to find my husband engrossed in the Iwo Jima episode of The Pacific.  

It was terrifying. 

We watched the battle unfold together. The Marines charged across a hilly field toward the Japanese fortifications against a backdrop of what would otherwise be a beautiful beach. It seemed dozens of men died every moment, mowed down mercilessly, stumbling and hitting the ground hard and bloody; these were not the elegant deaths of Hollywood. 

With their friends cut down beside them every second, they charged on, unable to stop and reflect on the loss of life. There was no time for fear. There was no time for hesitation. There was only, presumably, adrenaline and orders. 

Iwo Jima was part of Operation Detachment and 6,800 Americans died in the battle. The Japanese also saw heavy losses with nearly 22,000 killed fighting for the island and its three valuable airstrips over a month-long period.

Three thousand Japanese soldiers who survived Iwo Jima hid in the network of underground tunnels on the Island instead of surrendering because their leadership taught them to fear the Americans as ruthless animals. Those who lacked the will to commit suicide and instead surrendered were surprised to discover the kindness of their American counterparts, once willing to fight to the death, but now offering water, coffee and cigarettes.

Of the roughly 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, it was originally thought that only 216 survived the American assault.

My husband and I don’t watch much television. In fact, I think my mother is the only mom in America who regularly says, “you really need to be watching more TV.” But if you haven’t seen The Pacific, or its outstanding Europe-based counterpart, Band of Brothers, you may not appreciate the degree to which each and every one of us owe our very lives to the men who fought for our right to live free or die.

In Europe and in the Pacific, these men survived under deplorable conditions yet ultimately emerged victorious. In Bastogne and the Ardennes, in Holland, in the Philippines, in Okinawa, on Omaha Beach, so many died.

But so many returned home, to lives filled with average jobs, average wives, average lives, perfectly willing to trade glory on the battlefield for a quieter existence, hopefully filled with peace and love.

It’s to these men that we must never forget our debt, a debt that can never be fully repaid except through remembrance. Please, please don’t another day pass without taking the time to remember our veterans and their commitment to the American way.

Read about a battle. Watch the History Channel. Visit your elderly neighbor. The next time you are waiting impatiently for the older gentleman in front of you to move along, consider that he may be one of these “average” heroes. Does he still think of the battles he fought in which his friends, more like family, died?

I remember watching an interview with a soldier who fought in the Ardennes. He was in his 70s. He said, “There isn’t a night that goes by that I don’t thank God I’m not in Bastogne.”

Remember well, and be thankful this Thanksgiving for the average heroes among us who live quiet, and exceptional, lives.

jungis4545 November 21, 2012 at 10:24 AM
Good Lord, the horror, the real-life terror that is felt by the protected as she wakes gently on her sofa to the distant sound of gunfire. You have no idea, not even a clue. You might follow your own advice and thank a veteran, but your paean is all based on television and completely overlooks the veterans of Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many savage wars of peace between. If you want to thank a veteran, don't wait for that 'special day', do it often. Go and volunteer at the VA hospital in West Haven, read the sign at the entrance that says, "The Price of Freedom is Visible Here." Indeed it is. And keep in mind that a veteran-- whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve-- is someone who, at one point in his life, signed a blank check made out to "The United States of America" for an amount up to and including his life. Turn off your television. It's Hollywood and actors. Go push some wheelchairs at the VA and write about that.
Alan Wulff November 21, 2012 at 12:33 PM
The previous comment was a bit tough although I am sure well intended. The Pacific is not a Hollywood film. Lisa, you are right that people need to reflect more on what we owe those who fought in WWII. For a look at the gratefulness of the citizens of Bastogne, see my Milford Patch blog from Nov 12 on my recent visit there.
Greg Smith November 21, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Very nice article Lisa. There are a few WWII veterans left. I was lucky to know many of them at the VFW in Devon. Travis Kitchen, for whom our Post is named, lost an eye in Iwo Jima. I knew him for 10 years before he mentioned it. He's still going strong. We have been friends for more than 20 years, and I still feel honored just to sit and speak with him while we watch a game.
Lisa Bigelow November 21, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Thanks to all for reading and commenting. Lisa B.
RONALD M GOLDWYN November 21, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Dear folks, after graduating college while carrying a 1A draft card, I volunteered for the army. the year was 1960 and this was the only period of time when America was not involved in a shooting war. It was between the Korean and Viet Nam wars. All I had to do was pass the physical exam. The last doctor at the exam asked me what I was doing and I replied that I had just graduated college. He said to me " Go to graduate school, your not coming in, because we don't know how you are standing, the bone structure in your feet is all wrong." Thus ended my opportunity to serve in our military. Jungus4545 made a suggestion that we volunteer at the WHVA hospital. That is what I have been doing. On Sunday mornings I would take blind Vets to Protestant Church services, yet I'm Jewish. This was my way of serving those who were in the active service. I had two uncles who served in WWII one served the entire war within sight of the Statue of Liberty. His younger brother served in the Pacific and ended up as part of the occupation forces in Japan, coming home much later than most GIs. Yes we owe our Vets much and I wish this was always true. Thankfully, we have a new sense of gratitude or these servicemen. Greg, thank-you for your service.
Cornelius Thomas Rollin. November 29, 2012 at 01:48 AM
At ease, Pvt. jungis

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