Published November 11, 2005
I think his name was Al.
All I do know is he was 88 years old. That much he kept saying. That much I remembered.
He came up to me early this morning as I was leaving Miami enroute to Chicago to remind me of something.
"It's Veterans Day, " he said. "Don't forget."
When I asked him if he had served, "Of course," he shot back. "The big one."
When I asked what he did, he winked and added, "You know something? Absolutely nothing. I was a cook. A cook!"
That's what he did the whole time, he said, stationed in Birmingham, England, where the closest thing to danger he saw was the occasional Nazi strafing over his air base.
I asked if he ever saw death up close.
No. He knew some friends who didn't make it. But not friends with him, not where he served, not in the theater he worked.
He was just the cook, he said. No heroics. Just some grub.
"But Hell," he added, "it was something, all I could do, but I did it."
And it got me thinking. Bravery is determined not by the battles waged, but all the players in those battles — whether under fire, near fire or totally apart from the fire.
Some who hit the worst and didn't make it. Those who fed our soldiers and lived to tell it. Heroes all, I told him.
Then I went on my way. And he went on his.
With me grateful for this bump with the Greatest Generation... of all.
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