Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Incalculable Debt--thanks Veterans!

Happy Veteran's Day everyone. I'm so grateful for this special day as a way for us as a nation and community to express honor and gratitude to those among us who have secured our freedom.

I want to especially thank those World War II veterans who are still with us. They are getting fewer and fewer and those who remain are precious treasures that link us to some of the darkest and perhaps most glorious days of our history. I've been a history buff all my life and particularly WWII history, in part I am sure because my father lived through Nazi occupation in Holland in his formative years. I'm so proud of my grandparents who harbored escapees in their home under the noses of neighbor collaborators, risking the lives of their children--and of course, me and all their grandchildren. My interest in this history became very personal when I was asked by a friend to write the biography of a WWII fighter pilot who was shot down over France. When I met with this sweet and kindly gentleman, I was shocked to find he was one of 82 Americans and 168 total Allied Flyers who were treated to some of the worst of Hitler's brutality in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Nearly starved to death, they survived a massive bombing raid and the horrors of the camp to be rescued by German Air Force officers just four days before Hitler had scheduled them for execution. Joe Moser, the fighter pilot-hero of this story, was then shipped to Stalag Luft III and was placed in the very barracks that the tunnel of the Great Escape was dug a few months earlier. The 10,000 POWs of this camp were marched in 28 degree below blizzard 65 miles to be put on cattle cars and shipped to other POW camps as the Russians were arriving. Still weak from Buchenwald and weighing less than 120 pounds, Joe collapsed and would have died if his roommates had not carried or dragged him to the nearest town.

Joe Moser, at 88, is still alive and well and enjoying a kind of modest celebrity status after the release of his book, A Fighter Pilot in Buchenwald. He's been on CNN, was presented his Distinguished Flying Cross medal 63 years late, and even through out the first pitch at a Yankees Mariners game this August. Unfortunately, one of his squadron mates who was horribly burned in a crash landing of his P-38 and who was also in Stalag Luft III, died within the past few weeks. I was hoping to work with him on telling his story as well. Al Mills, like Joe, was a quiet, humble and God-loving man who contributed so much to all of us not just through their heroics in the war and their gritty courage in surviving their post-crash ordeals, but in helping build America after the war into the great nation we became.

These great men and women who sacrificed so much, who saw so much, who suffered so much are now leaving us. Some say at a rate of 1000 or more a day. Soon they will all be gone. I can tell you that helping bring some measure of honor and respect to Joe Moser at this time of his life has been one of the most meaningful, joyful and emotional experiences of my life. I encourage you, while we still have a very little time, to reach out to every veteran you can, shake their hand, look them in the eye and say thank you. It means more to them than they will ever be able to tell you.

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