By Robert Whelan
Last month, I took a trip in a time machine. I went back to a time and a life that was so much a part of my developing self. Back to Texas, this time more as spectator than participant. Like I was in a rerun movie of how I became who I was. Only this time allowing me to be much more conscious of how it happened. I realized I had been graced with an opportunity to return for a second look at myself before my greatest influence came into my life. Not everyone gets that chance. I found it soothing and helpful.
Let me begin by translating my experience in emotional terms. As you know, there was a monumental loss for all of us this year. Losing your wife, was overwhelming and huge. My life was basically centered on her for the past 62 years. That void will never be filled while I am still on this planet.
God gives us ways to ease the pain, however. In my case, He took me back to another time and another world. He set me down there gently, and He let me revisit myself in a positive manner. He placed me with friendly people who were my partners in a world at that time, where our very survival as a nation, was our overriding mission and experience.
Your real neighbors are those who come to your aid. We all were taught this when we were very young. It’s true meaning is not always visible and obvious. One needs to experience a deep seated example to fully grasp its totality.
Being back with the guys who were a part of that vital experience was astoundingly meaningful. I had doubts about even attending a reunion of the 13th Armored Division. I knew there would be few, if any, of the guys there I was with, or even still on the planet, for that matter. But something out of my loneliness called me to reconnect, and I phoned a daughter of one of the 13th Armored Division veterans to start the process.
Such a blessing that I did.
I have already described for you in my “Conversation with Jean”, the running details of the reunion.. What I now wish to communicate are my gut feelings about what happened there.
Words cannot adequately describe them. They are feelings and seldom can they be shared with common understanding. Exceptions can occur when you share them with someone else who has been in the same place. Who has worn the same shoes. Who has been there and done that.
Like boys who were on the verge of entering the prime time of their lives, only to be interrupted by being thrust into a set of circumstances they did not create or desire. Hurriedly to get together and learn powerful ways to defend themselves, their neighbors, and their country. North, South, East, and West, everybody in the same boat. Millions…Quickly…Effectively…
Their experiences, like those of the 13th Armored Division forged a bond that rarely occurs in time. A bond of common understanding and concern. We all were a part of that time, and place. As painful as it was, it made us better. It stamped in us a quality that some have referred to as “The Greatest Generation”. Most of us would prefer to think of ourselves as “Those Who Did What They Had To Do”. But it happened, and we, as a nation survived. Sadly, in my opinion, subsequent generations, without those hard learned experiences, never quite bonded in that same sense.
Perhaps the most outstanding dimension of this reunion, to my mind, was the shared devotion of the family members of those veterans attending the reunion. And even more moving was the attendance by relatives of deceased 13th Armored Division veterans. Jo Ellen Bender, the daughter of a recently deceased veteran actually coordinated the reunion event. An outstanding example also, was the attendance of Ken Odgers, a son of a deceased veteran, whose father, was killed in combat even before Ken was born. That is real bonding…The bonding I referred to above was passed along to those wives, sons, daughters, and grandchildren who attended the reunion. A total of 16 veterans and 41 family members An almost 3 to 1 ratio. I have appended a roster of all who attended the reunion.
There are lessons to be learned from such devotion. I felt extremely privileged to be a witness to it all. My witnessing did not stop there. There was a part of the bonding that carried over from our generation to the next and even the next after that. It was a respect A respect that is mostly missing from our world of today. A respect of the neighborliness of the 13th Armored Division veteran’s that was transmitted to, and carried on by, their families. That lesson is sadly missing from our times and happenings of today. Divisiveness is the tempo of today’s world Not seen in the world of the 13th AD veterans and their families. A cohesiveness that would surely alter the many directions in which our country seems to be heading today. True neighborliness, indeed…
My own personal up close encounter with this experience of neighborliness, has already been described in my “Conversation with Jean:, but I cannot resist placing again the picture of Arnold and me with his family. They adopted me and made me feel so welcome. It made my trip, all by itself…
As a final note, I had my friend Dave Perlman redo some old faded photographs of me after the was in Europe had ended Also a photo showing some of our guys after we captured Hitler’s birthplace town of Braunau, Austria.