The Fourth of July

     My father, Daryl Miller, is a veteran of World War II.  A few weeks ago we vacationed together in Washington D.C.  On his list of places to visit was the World War II Memorial.  When we first started to plan our trip it was clear that he was not going to be able to do all of the walking required to see all of the sights.  We nervously approached him with the idea of using a wheel chair.  He quickly agreed.  That’s was when we knew that being at the Memorial was really important to him.

     We arrived early in the morning.  We strolled along the Memorial until we came to a little fountain dedicated to the European part of the war.  We made our way to the inscriptions that read “Battle of the Bulge” and “Remagen Bridge,” phrases that were well known to him.   We settled in on the concrete bench seat along the wall.

     While we were sitting there a group of young ladies approached dad.  They were graduating eighth grade students from a Catholic girl’s school in Louisiana.  Their leader was their teacher.  When spoke to dad she said, “Sir, I assume that you are a World War II veteran.  These students would like to meet you.”

     One by one each of these girls approached him, and, in their own way, thanked him for his service.  They also wanted to have a group photo with him.  There he was, an eighty-eight year old disabled veteran, posing with five young girls from Louisiana, receiving the gratitude of a younger generation, looking like a celebrity, which, in my opinion, is entirely correct.

     As we continued around the National Mall we came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  We looked up a high school classmate of mine, Louie Holznecht.  He was also a classmate of dad’s barber.  We discovered that it was possible to obtain paper and crayon from one of the rangers from the U.S. National Park Service so that we could make a “rubbing” of Louie’s name.  Dad really wanted to take that rubbing to his barber.

     Louie’s name was at the highest part of the wall, third row from the top.  Without hesitation, a ranger grabbed paper, crayon and a ladder, climbed to the top and quickly made the rubbing.  We picked up an informational brochure to go along with the rubbing, and dad was now prepared to present this momento to Louie’s childhood friend.  As he had lost contact with many of his comrades through the years, it was important to dad, that his barber would remain in touch with the cherished memories of a bygone relationship.

     After a few days of arriving home after the trip, I called dad to ask him about his gift to the barber.  He then told me that he didn’t give the rubbing to him.  It seems that when he was driving down the street he saw Louie’s sister setting up for a garage sale.  He pulled the car over, got out, approached her and asked her if she had ever been to the “Wall.”  She responded quickly, “No.”  “Perhaps, then, you would like this,” he said.  And with that he presented her with her brother’s name.  He quietly got back into his car and, with a smile of deep satisfaction, drove away (The barber did get a copy of the original).  My father is an incredible man.

     I don’t like the idea of war.  I don’t think anybody really does.  War does its worst to humanity.  When the value of a human life seems to hit rock bottom, somehow the value for human relationships rises far beyond simple sentimentality.

     I will enjoy this 4th of July.  I will eat a hot dog or two.  I will suffer through the heat of the day, grousing about the higher temperatures that this summer has brought to us.  I will ooh and ahh as I enjoy some fireworks, but I won’t really need them.  All the sparklers that are necessary for me to enjoy this Independence Day has been provided by a WWII veteran who knows there is a spark of decency, respect, and kindness within people.  Thanks, dad.

(The story regarding the WWII Memorial was used in my 2012 Father’s Day sermon.)