Some time back, I was selling my books at a World War II exhibition. About mid-morning, a rather sad-looking woman walked up to my table and looked over my books before walking off.
A short time later she returned and walked up to me. Reaching inside her purse, she withdrew a small leather-covered box I recognized as a military award container. Handing it to me, she said, â€œopen it.â€
My hands nearly shook, when I looked down at the cover seeing the words â€œSilver Star,â€ embossed in gold. Slowly opening the box, I stared at the medal that was still in pristine condition.
Looking at the woman, I asked if she knew this award was just two levels below the Congressional Medal of Honor. She was quiet for a moment before replying that it had been given to her mother late in 1944.
Asking her for details, she wiped a tear from her cheek, took a deep breath and said, I never knew my father, but he was a lieutenant commanding six Sherman tanks. According to the citation, his tanks arrived at the edge of the woods where infantry and vehicles were backed up due to a mine field, and there were no engineers around to clear the area. After studying the situation, he decided the field probably contained nothing more than anti-personnel mines. Confidently, he walked back to his tank and told the crew to get out, before driving the tank across the field. As he drove forward, anti-personnel mines were exploding all around him as the treads of the tank detonated them. Reaching the far side of the open ground, he drove down the ditch quite a way before returning
Standing on top of his tank, he ordered the infantry, tanks and other vehicles to follow in his tracks across the field and continue forward along the ditch, that they would be all right. As the remainder of his tank unit started crossing the field, the young lieutenant began turning his tank around so he could lead the column forward. Regrettably, as he turned, the track nearest the road struck an anti-tank mine, causing the tank to explode in a ball of fire. Knowing nothing could be done for the gallant officer, the column pushed forward, breaking through German defensive positions. Some time in December 1944, the lieutenant's wife and mother of his two small children was awarded the medal in a rather small, nondescript ceremony since the war was still going on and other awards were waiting to be delivered.
Now you may ask yourself what the purpose of this story is. Understand, this brave officer didn't wonder which men behind him were Republican or Democrat. He didn't care which men behind him were Catholic, Jewish or atheist. It didn't bother him if the men were white, Spanish, Islamic or Native American. All he wanted was for those bunched-up soldiers to pick up their rifles, continue forward, and defeat an enemy threatening the security.
No doubt he was proud to operate a tank that was built back home in factories, by the hands of hard-working Americans that worked side by side no matter their race or ethnicity. Every one of those people worked long hours, prayed for the safety of our armed forces, while sacrificing at home, so every fighting man had the food and equipment necessary to finally end the frightening war.
Well, the war ended, the dead were buried, medals were handed out, and the world moved on.
Today that lieutenant occupies a small piece of ground in an Allied cemetery in Europe, with nothing more than a marble cross allowing the world to know he existed. It would certainly be interesting to ask him how he feels about the America he sees in 2021.
There's no doubt in my mind he would shed some tears, seeing how hate and disrespect have become a way of life. The actions of this heroic officer is the very reason we call people of his time the Greatest Generation. What are you doing to make your generation great?