This is Memorial Day weekend in the United States. A weekend for remembering those military men and women who gave their lives in war time. Strictly speaking, what follows would better fit Veteran’s Day than Memorial Day. All the same, it was a memorable encounter and worth sharing with you this weekend. This is an entry from my private journal about a century old veteran of the first world war. I met him in a supermarket in 1995, in Houston, Texas, and for reasons long since forgotten I did not get his name. Undoubtedly, he has passed on. If his comments sound a bit jingoistic to our more globally-aware 21st century ears, please bear in mind that having lived 100+ years and having served in and survived The Great War this old fellow earned the right to have an opinion or two…
12 April 1995 Wednesday
Eating lunch today at Randalls I met a fellow who is 102. Thinning white hair, horn-rimmed glasses, hard of hearing and stooped, but not badly so. Standing straight up he would have been about my height. Not real spry, but still walking –– shuffling –– while holding onto someone’s arm, and he certainly seemed sharp enough. He was out shopping with his son and daughter-in-law, and was talking to everyone he saw in a strong voice. He gladly told anyone interested that he was born in 1893, and he was in World War I eighty years ago, and a couple of years ago he got a medal for being the last World War I veteran in Galveston, Texas, and there’s no place like home, no place like Randalls. “He loves coming to Randalls,” daughter-in-law said.
He was born in Austria, and his father “had the good sense to get me out of there, out of the old world”, so the family came to the States in 1901. When I asked him if the world is a better or worse place than it was eighty years ago, this old fellow stood still, straightened up as much as he could, and declared in a loud voice with a slight accent that if it hadn’t been for the United States of America the world wouldn’t be CIVILIZED and Germany would be the ONLY country ruling, and the United States keeps other countries in line, and GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES! He repeated this a couple of times –– GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES! –– for those who missed it. And he didn’t seem to care that everyone within twenty-five yards could hear him, which I guess is the privilege of being 102. Then a couple of other old fellows –– this is quite a spot for that set to gather for coffee –– declared that they had been in World War II and what was the difference? For a moment I thought they were going to have it out over which was the better war.
Finally daughter-in-law nudged him along, and I asked his son, “Has he always been this outgoing?”
“Oh yes,” the son answered, “HELL yes!”