Of course we are. Our daughter is there and she won’t be home again for 11 months. I know, I’ve said that repeatedly, but I need to say it…to myself… repeatedly, so I get used to it. Although I did get to see her and hear her today via skype. She just couldn’t hear me, apparently I have an issue w/my mic. Rob will fix it. We are planning a trip. Samantha made what may have been a mistake in informing me that Freiburg is only 10 hours away from Normandy. What, are you kidding me? I’m that close I am SO going to Normandy. I have the ultimate respect of all US Vets. I never know if “vets” should be capitalized or not. In my world it certainly should be. My very favorites, my personal heroes are WWII Vets. I adore them. I SO adore them.
In the short time that I worked at Barnes & Noble during the day (because I worked there nights for many years) I had the great fortune to meet a least a dozen or so. Wow, I end up being unable to speak, those men absolutely amaze me. Kind of like a teen meeting their favorite rock star. What comes out of my mouth usually sounds something like “arg coo ba nah no noom gadda”. I know, I am starstruck. There’s so few of them left and they truly are my heroes. Oh! And Vladimir! Vladimir told me stories I had never heard, historical stories. He was the 1st one to ever tell me that Hitler actually shot himself. The Russians were the ones who found him and they wanted to make out like he’d chosen the wussie way so they had always told people that he’d taken the poison. He didn’t, Vladimir told me. I believe him. When one has the privilege of meeting a WWII Vet and gets over the star struck phase one needs to shut up and listen. I have met men who wanted to tell me everything (and there are so many sweet romance stories) and I have met men who wanted to be recognized as one of those great men (I say great, they don’t) but did not wish to add stories. I get that. After my original garble, I would wait. I never asked questions. If they wanted to talk about their experiences I would hear them and if they were of the want-to-tell-stories type then I feel free to ask anything once they had told me what they had to say. If they said nothing else, I would take the hint and just hug them and thank them. Vladimir would tell few stories that were personal to him. His stories pretty much stuck to historical facts so I didn’t ask. Vladimir wasn’t a US Vet. He was born and raised in a village in Eastern Europe in a place that was taken over by the Russians. Of course I don’t remember where, shame on me. I adored him as well.
One day, while working the register I greeted a customer but apparently didn’t make eye contact. That is unusual for me but I was focused on the book he was purchasing. I can’t tell you which but it was a book about the USS Indianapolis. I was all “oh my gosh! that is such an incredible story!” and what I heard back was “yes it was and I’m one of the 317 men that was pulled out of the water that day”. Okay, you want to knock me out of my senses? My knees gave out momentarily and my jaw dropped so hard onto the floor that one of my co-workers noticed it and opened up a different register . Apparently, my reaction was very visible. This man was now my world. I listened to him like no one else on earth existed. After I got over the “ga miein geepin jaja” crap, yes, because that pretty much was what I said I had the very fortunate experience of meeting Lieutenant Erwin Hensch. What an experience, one of the best of my life. Erwin was a talker, I didn’t have to ask him anything. God bless Erwin. Sorry, I’m kind of hyper-ventilating right now, still not over that. Whew.
As it turned out, Erwin and another MN survivor from the Indianapolis spoke at a middle school annually. Hello! My brain works sometimes. I wrote down his name and phone # and gave it to our community relations director. After my initial “ja co do dah” to her I was able to spill my story, Erwin’s story. Yep, Erwin and Duke ( Lyle Pasket, Seaman, 2nd Class) came to our B&N to speak. I was totally in my heaven! Gave all 3 kids warning that they were going to go and they WERE going to listen. Bought a hardcover of “Abandon Ship” and 4 paperback copies of “Ordeal By Sea” and we headed out that evening w/ya know a few complaints from kids. Whatever, shut up and listen. OMG, wow, that’s pretty much all I can say. All 3 kids were mesmerized and all of their jaws dropped. They did shut up and they did listen. If you’re not familiar w/the USS Indianapolis story LOOK IT UP! I remember specifically Erwin saying “a lot of men entered the water that night who didn’t believe in God, by the time we were picked up every man believed.”
I have shy children. While we stood in line to get our books signed, me in front, they pushed each other around so that someone else would have to be 1st kid to meet Erwin and Duke. Right, I bought 4 paperbacks and only have 3 kids, one was for my brother-in-law (who then wasn’t officially my brother-in-law but has always been to me). Pat was in Iraq at the time, for you and me and everyone else who lives in this country. So me and my “bla mein amp doodoo” did manage to spill out that the second book I had them sign was for Pat, in Iraq. Well then, it could have been Afghanistan at that time. We’d have to ask Pat. Anyway, while I was garbling to Erwin, Shannon (who apparently lost the pushing and shoving contest, or decided to be brave) was up close and personal w/Duke. He looked at her book and asked where she had gotten that particular book. He knew it was out of print so he was surprised to see it. I worked at a bookstore, hello back-order. He made the point of finding a picture of himself, on the deck of one of the landing crafts of the rescue team and signed there. She’s the only one of us who got that little bit of a personal touch. God bless both Erwin and Duke for writing personal notes to Pat and each of the kids left being grateful that they had gone and listened.
I love those guys! It’s been a decade since then. I don’t want to look them up. I’m afraid Erwin may be gone. Great experience! Fabulous experience! Very sad story, it’s our history. We are Americans. We get to live our lives because of these great, great men. I adore them. Apparently our planning our trip will be another story. I get side tracked so easily. Don’t ever believe any title I list.