I have often thought that some of the best stories are the ones that are never told. There are likely many such tales in each one of our family histories, and knowing this makes me wish I could interview the so-called average Joe and spend each day writing someone’s life story.
I was thrilled when my father-in-law, a World War II veteran who rarely spoke of his service, asked me if I would write his journal in to book form for each of his six sons. There were many stories that came to light in the sharing of this secret war-time diary that no one had ever heard.
Don Sutherland described himself as a farm boy, traveling to places he could barely pronounce, battling a horrific case of seasickness on a U.S. Naval Destroyer.
Coupled with homesickness, he said there were days on end of wishing for escape in a way few can truly imagine. Because of this and many other reasons, including his humble ways, it was a chapter of his life he rarely discussed.
He said that he kept the tiny black journal tucked in his bunk, and it was a way for him to try to make sense of the monotonous days at sea, not knowing then if life would ever make sense again.
This past week, a neighbor of ours passed away at age 93. I knew T.W. Smith as an impressive gentleman and farmer, and remembered hearing that he was a veteran, but not until he was gone did most of us realize just what a true war hero he was.
He served in the U.S. Army from January 1941 to June 1945. He was overseas 32 months during World War II, serving with the 3rd Infantry division, 7th Infantry Cottonbaler regiment, in the European Theater from Casablance to Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Mr. Smith received 10 battle stars, a Bronze Star with Clusters, the Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal and the French Croix de Guerre with palm.
His medals were on display at his funeral, and it left those paying their respects to this gracious life-long farmer speechless, in awe of such unknown accomplishments.
His wife tells the story of his sending her an engagement ring from California to Ohio before being shipped out. Marjorie accepted his long-distance proposal, and waited four years for his return.
He arrived home in June of 1945, and the two married the next month. She walked away from the war-time job she had held for those four years and happily raised her family on the dairy farm the two of them established.
Life was filled with service on various boards, including the Akron Milk Producers, Landmark, president and vice president of Agrimark’s board, FHA board in Ashland County, as well as the ASCA county and community committee for 38 years. He also served on church council and other various church committees.
This was the service that people of my generation knew about, and earned our respect.
It is a story worthy of sharing, and serves as a reminder that we are losing our great American heroes every single day.
Consider the opportunity for a conversation with each one a gift, and I encourage you to take a pen and paper along.