Today marks the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Being a sailor, this day does have a special meaning for me. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to meet someone who was at Pearl Harbor on that day, but I wanted to take this chance to talk about an incredibly awesome encounter that I did have with a WWII veteran a couple years ago.
My friend and I were playing golf on a Friday afternoon in Monterey. Around the 5th hole, we caught up to an elderly gentleman who was playing ahead of us. He was by himself, but he was playing so slow that he let us play through. As we were lining up our 2nd shots, the older gentleman’s drive ripped right between us. Normally, this would be fairly upsetting. Allowing someone to play through and then driving into them is pretty bad form on the golf course. For reasons that we’ve never been able to explain, however, my friend and I didn’t get mad. Instead, we waited for him to catch up to his ball, and we asked him if we just like to play the rest of the round with us. It turned out to be one of the best decisions that we’ve made.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I am awful at golf. I normally just play to get out of the house and enjoy some time with friends. As a result, I tend to keep up a fairly high level of chatter that will drive more serious golfers crazy. Therefore, I was pretty quick to engage our new playing partner (his name was John) in conversation. He certainly enjoyed the company, so we got a pretty good dose of his history that day.
It turns out that he was a WWII army veteran, and he had just turned 91 years old. He told us that he was a part of 3 major operations in North Africa at the beginning of the war, but he never made it onto the European continent. After getting out of the army, he moved to Santa Cruz where he started a car dealership with his brother. I could go into much more detail here, but the real meat of this story comes after our round was completed.
When we finished, 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 three things that will always stick with me for varying reasons.
I will always remember the first thing because it was pretty controversial. I’m not going to bring it up here because I don’t necessarily agree with it, and I’m afraid that it would spark a conversation that would take away from the rest of the post. Suffice it to say that he wasn’t necessarily happy with how certain parts of the war were conducted.
The second thing stuck with me 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?” With my friend and I both being in the Navy and history buffs, we answered, “Of course.” He looked at us, and with a sly little grin, said, “Well…we whooped him.” It was incredibly awesome, and it’s something that I will remember for the rest of my days.
The last thing 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 your legacy,” or something that demonstrated how in awe we were of him. He actually got a little upset and he said, “Now, I want you boys to listen to me. We were just doing what we had to 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 described.
It’s impossible to relay the awesomeness of that day in this simple blog post. It really is. To give you an idea, I would say that with the exception of my marriage and the birth of my children, it’s probably the greatest experience that I’ve had. One of my few regrets in life is that we didn’t stay for another drink and that I didn’t get his contact information. I would love to be able to sit down with him and write down his life story for the world to read. Maybe the opportunity will present itself again.