A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman that drastically changed the way that I look at my service to the country. It started off as a normal day, but by the end, a WWII veteran had instilled a sense of pride in me that will never go away.My friend and I were playing golf on a Friday afternoon in Monterey. Around the 5th hole, we caught up
to an elderly gentleman golfing by himself ahead of us. While he was alone, he was playing so slowly that he allowed us to go through.
As we were lining up our 2nd shots on that hole, however, he ripped his drive right between us. On any other day, this would have been incredibly upsetting. We probably would have turned around and questioned the other guy’s motives. For reasons that we’ve never been able to explain, however, my friend and I didn’t really get mad.
It just didn’t feel like the correct response.
Instead, we waited for the elderly gentleman to catch up to his ball. Then, we politely asked him if he would like to play the rest of the round with us. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I am horrible at golf. I started playing because my knees could no longer handle basketball, so I needed a new sporting outlet. I mostly just enjoy getting out of the house
and spending time with friends. As a result, I tend to keep up a fairly high level of chatter that will drive
more serious golfers crazy. I was quick to engage our new playing partner in conversation, and he was
more than willing to keep up his end. He certainly enjoyed the company, so we got a pretty good dose of his past that day.
It turns out that he was a WWII Army veteran, and he had just turned 91 years old. We learned that he
was a part of 3 major operations in North Africa at the beginning of the war. After getting out of the army,
he moved to Central California and went into business with his brother. I could go into much more detail here, but the real meat of this story comes after our round was complete.
After I finished 3-putting the 18th hole, we went into the clubhouse where we offered to buy him a drink.
His response was, “Bullsh*t! I’m going to buy you boys a drink.” It’s pretty hard to turn down an offer like
that, so we all ordered a beer and sat down. During the ensuring conversation, he said two things that will stick with me for varying reasons.
I will always remember the first comment because it is quite possibly the coolest thing that I have ever
heard anyone say in person. He leaned across the table and in a conspiratorial whisper asked, “Do you boys know who Rommel was?” Since my friend and I were both in the Navy and huge history buffs, we answered, “Of course.”
He looked at us, and with a sly little grin said, “Well…we whooped him.” I will never forget the twinkle that was in his eye as he talked about trumping one of the greatest strategists of all time. I’m sure that I just sat there with a look of sheer fascination on my face during the entire conversation.
The other memorable moment occurred while we were finishing up our drinks and getting ready to leave. I don’t remember exactly what my friend and I said, but it was something along the lines of, “It’s impossible to live up to the legacy of your generation.” How do you look a WWII veteran in the eye and think that you are in his league in any way? It’s not possible.
He actually got a little upset with us. He looked across the table and said, “Now, I want you boys to listen to me. We were just doing what we had to do, the same way that you are. The wars and the service may be entirely different, but don’t ever sell yourselves short. I’m proud to have met both of you.”
When he said that, it just about blew my mind. How do you live up to someone who lived through the
Great Depression and then volunteered to fight the military juggernaut that was Germany? That person
belongs on a pedestal that I will never be able to reach. While I am still in a state of awe with regards to
that generation, his comments did instill a certain amount of pride that will never go away. Having a 91 year old WWII veteran tell you that he respected what you were doing is a shot to the ego that can’t be
It’s impossible to relay the awesomeness of that day in this simple article. I sincerely hope that everyone has the opportunity to sit down next to a person like that and hear their story. It will change the way you think forever. To give you an idea of how much of an impact that day had, I would say that with the exception of my marriage and the birth of my children, it’s probably the greatest experience of my life.
One of my few regrets in life is that we didn’t stay for another drink or get his contact information. His
story is one that should be recorded and told to future generations. To hear him say that he was honored to meet me is incredibly humbling and something that I will never forget.
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