Mr. Speaker, standing on the beaches of Normandy, he found himself silent. Like a scene ripped from the movie Saving Private Ryan, this American GI was overwhelmed with memories. Memories so vivid, so real that in an instant he was a soldier again in the 7th Army, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, fighting through the Cities of Aachen, Stuttgart, Cologne, and Bonn. The graves before him transcended time, taking him back in history to a time when freedom was on the line.
He was born in the 1920s. He grew up in the Depression of the thirties, and he grew up poor like most rural American children. Fresh vegetables were grown in the family garden behind the small frame house. His mother made sandwiches for school out of homemade bread. Store-bought bread was for the rich. He grew up belonging to the Boy Scouts, playing the trumpet in the high school band and going to church almost every Sunday.
In 1944, this 18-year-old country boy that had never been more than 50 miles from home finally found himself going through basic training in the United States Army at Camp Walters in Texas. After that, he rode the train with hundreds of other young teenagers to New York City for the hazardous ocean trip on a cramped liberty ship to fight in the great World War II.
No amount of training could have prepared him for what he was about to experience. As a teenager, he and thousands like him put life on the line for freedom. He saw the concentration camps at Dachau and the victims of the Nazis. This horror gave him a clearer understanding of why America was at war. He saw incredible numbers of other teenage Americans buried in graves throughout France, but like so many of his generation, he really never discussed the details, only saying that the real heroes were the ones that never came home from Europe.
Some 64 years after the war, my hero stood before the monument at Normandy with the thousands of white crosses and Stars of David and paid tribute to his heroes. The price of freedom was enormous, the memories of the sacrifices made were overwhelming. Amidst the whirlwind of imagery flashing before his eyes, my dad began to recall life before the war and what victory in Europe meant for Americans--and what freedom means today.
After Germany surrendered, he went back to Fort Hood, Texas, expecting to be re-equipped for the land invasion of Japan. It was there he met Mom at a Wednesday night prayer meeting church service, but before he could be shipped out to Japan, the Japanese surrendered and the war was over. Not too long after that, he opened a DX service station where he pumped gas, sold tires, fixed cars, and began a family.
Deciding that he needed to go to college, he moved to West Texas and enrolled in a small Christian college called Abilene Christian College. He and his wife and two small children lived in an old converted Army barracks with other such families. He supported us by working nights at KRBC radio and climbing telephone poles for "Ma Bell."
He finished college, became an engineer, and worked 40-plus years for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in Houston, Texas. He turned down a promotion and a transfer to New York City because it wasn't Texas, and as he said it was "no place to raise a family." Mom and Dad still live in Houston not far from where I grew up.
After his recent trip to Normandy, he opened up a little more about the war, still humble about his contributions, but looking back on the significance of victory through the eyes of an 82-year-old man. Don't get me wrong, Mr. Speaker, he hasn't mellowed at all in these years. He still rants and raves about the east coast media, and he has a strong opinion on politics and today's fight for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. He gives plenty of advice to everybody, including me.
He has two computers in his home office and e-mails with his buddies all around the world. He still flies the flag on holidays. He mows his own grass, and he can fix anything. He goes to church on Sunday, and he takes Mom out to eat almost every Friday night.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who fought and died in America's wars. We don't have to look far for courage or stories of inspiration. They are all around us from the men and women who proudly wear the uniform of a U.S. warrior.
Across the Potomac River in Arlington National Cemetery are the graves of the silent warriors who, in their youth, gave their lives for our future. Down the street from the Capitol are the World War I, the World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam Memorials. Standing in front of the World War II Memorial are the pillars from each of our States and Territories. On the back wall, there appears to be a large bronze plate. Mr. Speaker, it is not a bronze plate at all but it's 4,000 bronze stars. Each star represents 100 Americans, mostly teenagers, killed in the great World War II. Four hundred thousand Americans, many still buried in the fields of Europe where they gave their lives for the rest of us.
Without the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, America would not be the amazing country of liberty it is today. My hero, my dad, is one of the charter members of the Greatest Generation.
This Memorial Day, he and his fellow veterans at the local American Legion hall will be marching in a parade somewhere in Texas. He's the best man I ever met. Virgil Poe: good man, good father, good soldier. That's plenty for one life.
And that's just the way it is.
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