On a complete whim, we decided to drive to Bedford, VA last week to attend the 70th anniversary of the D Day invasion. I asked God for only two things:
That a veteran would pray with Courson. (He wants to go into the armed forces.)
That we would have the opportunity to meet some of the vets and thank them personally.
God must have just been giggling at my requests.
Arriving late (as usual), we struggled to find a place that was a bit out of the sun during the two hour service (yes, two hours! And we forgot to bring any sort of snacks or toys to this thing!). Within 20 minutes, Daly Kay had befriended a veteran and his wife. I looked over to see the wife and her husband, with their hands on Courson’s shoulders, praying for his future.
Mission #1 accomplished.
Story after story was shared about the momentous landing by 90+ year old men on a stage with a microphone we couldn’t even see. I scanned the crowd. I saw a gentleman, well into his 90’s, pridefully donning his army uniform from 7 decades ago, walking (!) towards a ramp. I scurried to Courson, gave him one of our thank you notes, and pointed to the man in uniform. Courson took off through the crowd. When I caught up, the gentleman was tearing up and Courson was hugging him. Behind the soldier, was a photographer, and as God would have it, this photographer was a guardian from the Southeast Florida Honor Flight. After I explained to the photographer that we had come here after learning about the event from the Honor Flight’s web page, and how I was hoping to be able to meet and thank the men with my children, I gave him my phone number and hoped we would meet up again that weekend. I had no idea.
By 7pm, we had exchanged several texts and it was decided that we were going to meet the entire flight full of South Florida D Day survivors.
News crews, newspapers, and many of the board of directors and corporate sponsors awaited our arrival. My new photographer friend, Tony, led us into the dining room and many of the men stood up and applauded us. I was shocked. Dumbfounded. After telling a bit of our story, another round of applause erupted. I am not a public speaker by any means, but I knew if I did not grab that mic, my shot at a public shout out to these national treasures would be forever gone.
So with trembling hands and a quaky voice, mission #2 came to fruition.
We then got to spend two hours mingling with the men, hearing stories. Thanking them. Hugging them. My kiddos infiltrated the room and before I knew it they had all made dozens of new friends. I began to notice that many of the men I spoke with had BRIGHT PINK lipstick marks…perfect kissmarks on their left cheeks! I caught up to Daly Kay and she explained…”I know I am supposed to save my first kiss for my husband, but I figured my hubby wouldn’t mind this. They all kept telling me how pretty I was, how thankful they were that we came, how much I looked like their wife when they were first married. I had to kiss them! And I kissed every one of them I could!” Adorable.
Many of the men and not just a few of the board members asked if we would like to join them in DC the following day. So by 6am Saturday, we were on the road again and headed to our nation’s capital.
The men were overjoyed to see us at their first stop. Many of them asking for their favorite Reback by name! “Where’s my Judson??!!” “I want that Handsome Ransom to sit with me for lunch!” “Where’s my sweet Daly Kay!” “Can Ryli come sit with me?” After much discussion, the DC police force had turned down the request for us to follow in the motorcade. “Homeland Security” and “We have our orders…” I shot up a quick prayer and as the buses were about to pull out, my friend Tony came running to the van. “You must have some really high pull, High Up. Higher Up like nobody I know! The cops just changed their mind, follow tight!” And so the Reback family followed along in a motorcade that stopped highways, drove on the wrong side of the roads, and blew through lights all surrounded by cop cars and motorcycles! The boys were in amazement!
At Arlington National, I toured the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with my new friend who was a knight. He had received the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction. He pointed at a glass enclosed medal and whispered, “I have that one. It was designed by Napoleon.” I was standing next to Greatness. He had been a member of the French Resistance, caught by Nazi’s, sole family member to survive the Holocaust by escaping a concentration camp, gotten to America, stormed Normandy’s beaches and later went on to fight for the USA against Korea.
At the WW2 Memorial, the children were busy getting their friend’s autographs. Again, many of the men asked for their favorite kiddo by name. Proud to sign autographs for my children that included their rank, where they served, what branch of the military they belonged to, I soaked in every minute next to these brave warriors who had given us such opportunity in our country. I realized that in many cases, within a year, or two or three, most of them would be gone….watching our family from above. I had to stay focused, or tears would just flow. We owed them so much, and here they were thanking us for driving a few hours. Humility, modesty, and quiet strength emanated from each of them. Way too quickly, their time was up and they were being loaded back onto their buses. Ransom darted off with Daly Kay, determined to get a veteran’s signature that was not in our group. Come to find out, this particular vet was a THREE WAR veteran from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam! He sweetly gave a book to Ransom that included hundreds of photos of him as a young GI with generals, movie stars and entertainers …Who knew this sweet little man bound to a wheel chair, well into his 90’s had been a famous photographer of his day?
I turned to leave with Daly Kay and Ransom to see the line of buses carrying our precious new friends about to leave. Standing in salute was a fully dressed member from each branch of the military. As the buses slowly pulled away, the men were all standing again, banging on the windows, waving frantically at Daly Kay, Ransom and I. It seemed as though we were waving goodbye to an entire generation. And I cried like a baby.
You see, everything we have, every book, every freedom, every opportunity…was bought with the blood of over a million Patriots such as these precious soldier’s. I can’t thank them enough! Fourteen hours driving with 15 kids pales in comparison to their sacrifice on our behalf. Think about it. Thank a vet. Every stinkin’ chance you get.
And I suppose the greatest take away from this weekend is that Our Heavenly Father delights in doing immeasurably above all that we could ask, hope, or imagine. He showed up in so many ways this past weekend, I couldn’t recount every instance if I had a hundred pages to describe it.
And I’ll never get over them standing in ovation to thank us. I only want to live in such a way that honors them. And with every breath I take, so help me, these kids of mine will grow up to make those veteran’s sacrifices worth it.