A good friend of mine, Blaine, was a World War II veteran. He was one of the most patriotic men I knew, even if he had many reasons not to be.
As a young man, Blaine, like many others his age, found himself embroiled in the bitterness of war. After the invasion at Normandy, he was part of the army fighting across Europe toward Germany. The German army had been falling back, but as the Allied armies came closer to Berlin, the Germans dug in. The bombardment from both sides went on for days.
Blaine’s unit was right at the front, and when the shelling slowed, they received the command to move forward. They ran forward toward the enemy lines, but they only got about halfway there when the Germans opened fire again.
Blaine, and all of the men with him, immediately dove for cover. They still had enough of a barrier between them and the enemy that they could defend themselves. But then something happened that was unexpected. The soldiers from the line behind them opened up with gunfire that was coming in low. Blaine saw some of his comrades fall, not from enemy fire, but from friendly fire. He also felt bullets rip into him from behind his own line.
For some time, Blaine and those with him who were still alive lay in the field as bullets whizzed around them. But eventually, for Blaine, everything went black as he passed out from loss of blood. When he woke, he was in a field hospital. They had stitched him up, but some of the bullets he had taken were impossible to remove, bullets that would cause him pain all of his life.
Blaine later found out that those who had given the order for his unit to move forward had done so without coordinating it with other levels of command. The other units could only assume he and the men with him were enemy soldiers.
Some of those who survived became bitter at the loss of friends and much of their own ability. Some carried that anger even to the point of bitterness against the country they served. But Blaine chose another path. He chose to let that bitter moment go from his life. He seldom shared it, but when he did, he only talked about the honor he felt being able to serve his country.
Despite his struggles, Blaine was always positive and kept a keen sense of humor. One patriotic holiday, we were standing next to each other with our hands over our hearts in honor of the flag that was being raised. There was a stiff wind, and Blaine was struggling to stay on his feet. When the halyards were securely fastened, and the flag whipped in the wind at the top of the pole, we dropped our hands.
Blaine turned to me and laughed. “I tell you, I think my hair is even more patriotic than I am. In this wind, it stands up, salutes, and stays that way for hours.”
I looked to see his white hair standing straight up, and I smiled.
As Blaine was getting older and knew his days were numbered, he had one desire. He wanted to go back to Washington, D.C. to the World War II memorial to honor his friends who had never come home. But he didn’t have a lot of money, and he felt that opportunity was out of his reach. Then Blaine’s nephew heard of the Honor Flight, where a nonprofit group raised funds to help veterans make the trip to the war memorial honoring those with whom they served. Together Blaine and his nephew worked to fill out the necessary applications.
It seemed like forever to Blaine before he received word that he had been accepted. But when the acceptance came, he was overjoyed and shared some of his excitement with me. But sadly, Blaine never lived long enough to make the flight.
When I got a chance to go to Washington, D.C. on a business trip, I had little time for sightseeing, but I did take time in Blaine’s behalf to go to the World War II memorial. As I quietly stood there with the sun setting behind me, I could almost see Blaine standing and saluting as his friends welcomed home a brother in a grand veterans’ reunion. I smiled and saluted back.
Good job, my friend.