By JUDITH SUTHERLAND
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a column which mentioned Pete Smith, the kind and quiet man who did all of the plumbing and electrical work around our farm. Pete had been with us so many times on our farm that I considered him sort of a shirt-tail relative.
I was about 10 years old when I realized Pete was a World War II veteran after I had witnessed his participation in a Memorial Day parade. I was amazed, as any kid that age might be, to think Pete had ever been anything besides what I knew him to be. He had traveled the world as a soldier and I wanted to know more.
Even then, I had a drive to know life stories of others, to write it all down so I would never forget them. I couldn’t wait to talk to him about his amazing experiences. That is, until my father put a stop to my curious ways. He let me know, on no uncertain terms, that I was not to bring up anything to do with any war in Pete’s presence.
My father had a deep and abiding respect for Pete, and he promised me that someday I would understand the importance of this request to please leave my questions unasked. The seriousness of this request was very clear.
I received my answer to this yesterday. Our local newspaper carried the news of Pete Smith’s passing. He was 89 years old. The obituary read that Pete was a veteran of World War II, serving in Europe from 1942 to 1945 in the Third Army.
Pete was one of the soldiers who fought at Normandy, and was also involved in combat at the Ardennes campaign. It was during the heat of the Ardennes battle where Pete’s brother, Herschel, lost his life in action.
Respect. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t find valid reason to be grateful for a father who cared enough to teach us respect for others. I learned at age 10, without fully knowing why, that sometimes the best way to show respect is to say nothing at all.
Also in my recent column about veterans, I mentioned a man named Bob whose doctor father was called up to serve in World War II. After reading that column, Bob said, “Now, here is the rest of that story, another veteran connection.”
It turns out the neighbor man who took Bob under his wing, teaching him how to work on a family farm while his father was away at war, was a World War I veteran. This man had been blasted with mustard gas during the war, and he and his wife had been unable to have children.
In retrospect, Bob realizes the connections to selfless military service created a community — a caring, loving network of giving individuals. There are stories dedicated to our servicemen and women during the height of the holidays, and perhaps around Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but much of the time, we live our lives oblivious to the enormous sacrifice so many have laid down for us.
I think of those who lost loved ones, those who returned home broken in so many ways and those who unknowingly lived their lives without the siblings who might have come if not for their parents being separated by a war on the other side of the planet.
We owe a multitude of gratitude, every day. I have made this my resolution in the days to come. Wishing you and yours a very happy and prosperous new year.