Today we attended another local WWII Weekend event. There were hundreds of reenactors representing many different American units, as well as portrayals of British, Canadian, French, Russian and Polish soldiers. Germans too. Medical units, mess tents, chaplains' quarters, and even a few cavalrymen. There were Red Cross ladies and civilians on the home front, piles of jeeps, vintage cars, all sorts of military equipment and more M-1's than you can shake a stick at.
But most thrilling of all is of course the veterans. As we walked up through the encampments we were excited to come upon a familiar looking display and my daughters were warmly greeted by a man in uniform, all of them smiling and embracing like long lost friends. Actually, they just met this dear veteran at a similar event a couple of months ago, and I hear snippets of the stories he's told them on an almost daily basis. He appreciates my girls because they appreciate his stories and service, and they were all so happy to see each other again. It is just amazing to see and hear this ninety-four year old man enthusiastically relating his anecdotes, showing his artifacts, passing on his memories as vividly as if they happened last week, not seventy years ago.
We also listened to formal speakers telling their stories - a medic veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, an infantryman and a tank driver, both of whom landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and a Marine who served in the Pacific. We heard harrowing tales and nitty gritty details of what it was really like. We heard an account of the train full of Jewish prisoners rescued and liberated by American soldiers, and the reunion that took place between some of them so many decades later. We met other men who served as well and the girls added more autographs to their collection.
The opportunity to meet these veterans and hear them speak, shake their hands and thank them for their service, is truly an incredible privilege and it leaves us all in a fair bit of awe. Thankful, grateful awe.