I used to see him more often, but it has been months now since he has made his way outside into the sunshine. Perhaps it was the long winter; perhaps it is his age – he is 102, I’m told. He is my neighbor in the apartment complex in which I live in Kingston. He is also a veteran of D-Day.
I first met him years ago on my morning rounds to buy a newspaper in the local convenience store. He was there daily, having his breakfast and reading his paper. We became casual friends and I laughed during the Saratoga racing season as he chose his favorites in the races, often selecting horses with vaguely religious names. We had a good laugh together the day after Rising Hope came in last! A few days a season he headed north to take in the races in person. That always yielded some choice stories the next morning!
He was always smiling, always up for a joke, rarely speaking of the war but so deeply conscious of his role in it. When the 50th anniversary celebrations were planned he felt unable to go himself, his health was failing, but he paid for a younger friend, an enthusiast who was not a veteran, to go to France to represent him.
As long as he could, he drove weekly to West Point to shop at the PX and to do his laundry there. It was cheaper, he said, than using the laundry room in his building. (No one bothered to tell him about the gas for his drive to the Point.)
Then he fell ill and now has an aide with him at all times. He refuses to give up his car – she drives him in it – and they venture out with his walker for short strolls. I am hoping to see him again in the spring sunshine. Why?
He is a friend, yes, but he also represents an era that is rapidly ending. There are fewer and fewer veterans of WW II still alive, fewer who stormed those Normandy beaches, fewer who fought in the last war that united our country behind a valiant effort to end aggression once and for all.
Was it misplaced idealism? Was it the only response to a very different world from that which we now inhabit? Was it because the citizens were asked to support that war by civilian sacrifices so that it was a war in which we all had a part as meat and shoes and gas were rationed and everyone was urged to save up to buy war bonds, penny by penny?
I will let the experts decide on that. All I know is that my neighbor is one of a dwindling band of brave people. I do hope to see him again as he makes his way with his walker along the sidewalk. He is trailed by the shadow of his not forgotten bravery. I need to thank him once more.