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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Heroic deeds presented as commonplace

I've written before about my friends in the 8th Air Force Historical Society. These are the guys who flew and maintained the B-17, B-24's, B-25's, C-47, Corsairs and so many more planes in WWII (both Europe and the Pacific). We also have ground troops and aviators from other wars and we also have hanger ons like me.
The WWII vets are all in their 80's. Some have walkers, others have oxygen tanks, many have hearing aids. I watch as I see my future in these men. They go from being old to being frail to being infirm. They go from attending the lunches to missing some lunches to getting to some lunches to not being able to go to lunches anymore. And then it's the call or the notice...So it is with another one my friends, Mark Holmes.
I met Mark about a year after I joined the 8thAFHS in 2001. I ran into Mark at an Arby's in Edina, but didn't remember his name. Well, that changed over the next few months. From his name tag at the lunches, I knew Mark was in Air Force Intelligence, but not much more than that. Again, that was to change.
My friend Larry Bachman (B-24 pilot, 35 completed combat missions) celebrated his and his wife's 60th wedding anniversary with an open house at his church. Mark was there and we talked for a bit. He was telling me that he no longer drove and wasn't sure about making the lunches. I said I could come and pick him up from time to time. "Well, if it's not out of your way." Serving WWII vets is never out of my way. So, one bright early spring morning I went to Hopkins to pick Mark up. As we were going to lunch, I asked Mark what he did in Air Force Intelligence. "I was a courier." What did he do as courier? "Oh, I picked up documents and brought them back to headquarters." Ah, I see. Well, trying to keep the conversation going I asked where in England did he pick those documents up? "Oh, I picked them up in France, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Germany." Behind enemy lines? "Oh, sure." Oh, sure? Well,how many times? "21 I think." TWENTY ONE! Parachuted? "Only once. Airplane all the other times." Ever caught? "No. Real, real close lots of times though!" Oh....real, real close... lots of time. Here I was, giving a ride to one of the most self effacing men I had ever met. Just a matter of fact tale of going behind enemy lines on numerous occasions and coming close to certain execution if caught-a number of times.
This morning, about an hour ago, my friend Glenn called. My friend Mark has passed from living history to history past.
As I said before they go from being old to being frail. The notice was relayed to us a couple of months ago from Mark's son that his Dad was probably not going to be able to make it to the lunches anymore. I knew time was being counted for Mark.
And of course I reflect on the time being counted for all the rest of my WWII friends. There will come that time when the last WWII veteran I know will transcend living history. There will be that moment when all experience will become memory.
I've written before that I told my brother that the deeper we get into the 8thAFHS and the more we know these guys, the more acute and deeper the pain will be when they pass away. My brother then made a comment that echoes what Mark did in WWII:"We knew the mission was dangerous when we accepted it."
And I intend to enjoy whatever time left the Lord allows me to hang out with these guys.
Rest and fare well Mark.


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