In my e-mail inbox this morning was the latest installment of "Rice's World Famous, Randomly Sent, Unsolicited VetLetter." Authored and distributed by Marty Rice, a veteran, welder, and educator who has contributed many articles to thefabricator.com, the VetLetter always takes me on an emotional journey from laughter to tears and back.
As Memorial Day approaches in the U.S., I can think of nothing more appropriate for my blog post this week than Marty's newsletter. So, with the author's permission, I am sharing his delightful, insightful, and heartfelt thoughts about our veterans exactly has he has written them. Feel free to add comments at the end of the post. I've already told Marty how I feel.
As Uncle Sam said to some of you…GREETINGS!!!
I have been blessed beyond belief this last year to meet some of the guys who are the backbone of our country, part of the Greatest Generation with my dad in the VA hospital. They are in the dementia ward, some can’t speak and just have the thousand-yard stare some wander aimlessly, others like dad are in a state of confusion with bursts of clarity, such as dad telling me one day all about his boot camp drill sergeant by his name, rank, where he was from etc. I’ve heard them tell stories that leave me in awe.
Many of the old vets are funnier than hell, and one of the guys, Pat, is always cracking me up when I visit. One time he would constantly roll his pants leg up. The nurses would come roll it back down only to find it even higher a few minutes later. He has an infectious grin that gives me a lift every time I see it. After many times rolling it back down and many admonishments I heard a nurse in a very frustrated voice say “YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME!” I looked up to see her shaking her head leading him to his room, him with his sly smile holding her hand and following along with his pant leg rolled up all the way to his hip!
One day Pat had a bad fall, and I helped get him up into a chair. I asked if he was hurt anywhere and he said, “No, I pretty much hurt EVERYwhere!” I shattered my ankle many years ago in the Iron Workers union and when I sit down, it freezes up on me. One day I walked by him limping pretty badly and I heard Pat ask, “Is something wrong with your leg?” I told him, and in one of the most soft-spoken and kind voices I’ve ever heard he said “Well, just let me know if I can help you.”
My daughter saw the tragic side of Pat one day. He walked into the day room and said “You want me to get you out of here? I can do it.” He then walked to the curtains and began carefully wrapping his imaginary buddies. Pat’s plane crashed in World War II killing all except him. He went back time after time and brought each of his dead buddies out so they wouldn’t burn with the plane. Honor…valor…such great men.
Many are like dad in that they served in World War II and then were drafted back into Korea. It took my dad 60 years before he could tell me what he had been through. It was right before his health began declining. We were driving along one day and he asked me to pull in a Home Depot parking lot. We sat there and he told me about pushing though Germany in the infantry during one of their coldest winters, helping to liberate Dachau, getting called back from civilian life and again fighting through the hell of war in Korea.
One of the other “characters” in the ward is Carl. Carl wheeled up to me one day and noticed my Army tattoo and showed me his. I then noticed the Marine Globe and Anchor and a Navy Anchor. I asked about them and he told me he was a Marine and a Soldier without ever doing boot camp. Turns out he was on a ship in the Pacific during one of the campaigns when a Marine officer came aboard and asked who his commander was. He noticed his commander pointing to him as he talked to the Marine. The Marine walked back up to him, gave him a uniform and said to put it on and get in his boat. A couple of hours later he was in a foxhole fighting the Japanese!
When he got out, like dad, he was drafted back in to go to Korea. They told him to go get on a truck loaded with guys going to an Army base. He protested that he was a Marine and was told that he was not. He then said okay, technically he was a Sailor. He was then told “you are now in the Army!”
While I was visiting last weekend, one of those brave warriors passed on and it will not be the same without him. He could no longer speak, but every time I saw Mr. Synder he would do a little dance step and then vigorously shake my hand with a crushing grip, especially from a 94-year-old. (By the way, the oldest guy up there is 98. He joined the Navy during WWII even though he was too old to go. He wants to make it to 100 but told me after that “all bets are OFF!”)
Mr. Snyder was the man who came into my dad’s room and before walking back out after seeing him asleep on his recliner, tenderly covered him with a blanket. He was a funny guy, one day motioning for me to cup my hands. When I did he began shaking salt in my hands with a salt shaker from the chow hall. He then started shaking it on my dad as dad started looking down and asking where the heck that was coming from. Next was dad’s roommate Dwayne who was having no part of it and began pushing him away.
So then the nurses are trying to make him stop as he is salting them and they’re laughing so hard they can’t do it. Finally one of the nurses made him go sit in the hallway and I’ll never forget looking out there and seeing him smile and give me a thumbs-up for his prank. I knew there was something special about him, and it was confirmed when I read his obituary enclosed below.
On this coming Memorial Day Weekend I honor and stand in awe of those who gave everything for my freedom. I tell my students they are breathing free air because of those brave men and women who have died tragic deaths in the forests, jungles, mountains, deserts, rivers, and oceans. They are free because of all those who have served and are serving. They might not learn that in their other classes anymore, but they damned sure do in welding!
God bless those of you who have served this great nation. God bless those of you who supported us, especially when supporting wasn’t cool!
WWII Vets still have each other’s backs after all those years.
William Frank Snyder, 94, of Amarillo died Saturday, May 19, 2012.
William was born Nov. 23, 1919, in Tama, Iowa, to Allen and Auro Snyder. William was a proud Navy veteran of World War II and an Army veteran of Korea. William served on the battleship USS New Mexico during most of WWII, earning many battle stars and medals. He was a gunner’s mate on a Quad 40 MM gun mount. Battles included Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The ship lost several hundred men because of Japanese kamikaze attacks on the gun line off Okinawa.
William was an avid sports participant, including Olympic weightlifting, winning many trophies. He participated in archery and dance.
William was a devoted husband for 56 years. He was a beloved father, grandfather and friend.
The family wishes to thank the doctors, loving nurses and staff at the VA Hospital.