My dad, and my good friend Bob, had a big influence on my life. Both are home with the Lord. Both were men of character, real gentlemen, and devote in their Catholic faith. Both were part of the Greatest Generation we all owe so much.
Dad was 19 and part of a landing craft crew when he landed on Utah Beach the morning of D-Day. As they hit the beach, his landing craft was disabled. Under heavy fire, they abandoned their craft, hastily picked up whatever equipment they could find lying in the sand and joined an Army recon unit fighting their way off the beach. For a month, he fought to liberate French towns in Normandy before returning to his ship. When he did, he discovered half of his crew did not make it off the beach that morning. Dad died suddenly almost 10 years ago, never really talking much about his war experience.
Bob was also a Navy vet and crewed a landing craft. He was 18 and halfway to Japan for invasion of the mainland when the war finally ended. Bob provided security for the USS Missouri as the Japanese signed the surrender document aboard it. He remembers sailing into Tokyo Bay immediately afterward, wondering if it was all really a trap. Bob spent the rest of the war as a first responder clearing the rubble from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bringing food and water to Japanese citizens who survived the devastation. Bob died 2 years ago when his heart was too tired to pump anymore.
A month before he died, our son wrote Bob a letter which said, “instead of me saying ‘thank you for your service,’ I want to say thank you for putting your life on hold 70 years ago to preserve our nation’s freedom and fight tyranny abroad. Thank for your ensuring evil will not triumph or reach our nation shores. Few people know the unique feeling of signing your life away for a cause greater than one’s self. Few people know what it is like to raise your right hand and take an oath. Few people know what it is like to put your life on hold and go to a foreign country to fight, knowing full well that a living, breathing, thinking enemy is waiting for them when they get there. Your service to our country meant the preservation of our freedom for many years to come, and your sacrifices for our nation will never be forgotten. Respectfully, Major Justin Amthor USMC.”
While speaking at a memorial service after the war, General George Patton said, “let’s not ask God why these men had to die. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.” As we kick off the summer this Memorial Weekend, may we pray for the men and women who sacrificed their lives to fight evil and protect freedom. May we never forget them – and thank God that they lived. May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.