Among my family members, I am known as an incurable “dumpster diver,” especially if I spot a discarded item that may be of historical significance. Many a time to the chagrin of my wife I have brought home items “liberated” alongside a dumpster. My entire 1970s vintage stereo system was obtained in this manner; less for the landfill and a win-win for all!
Several months ago, my brother-in-law was given a vintage U.S. Army footlocker which had been in storage for years and was on its way to the local dump. Knowing I have a keen interest in history and militaria he asked me if I wanted it, rather than him disposing of it. A “no brainer” — I promptly took possession and hauled the footlocker home.
Upon opening it I was amazed at its contents. It was readily apparent that it contained the memorabilia and documents of a senior U.S. Army Officer and his wife who had both passed without any surviving heirs or children more than forty years ago. On the one hand I was elated at such a find, but on the other, it was sad to know that I was the one now responsible for preserving their legacy of service to the country during three global conflicts.
The numerous medals on his uniform were a testament to his service in World War II, the Korean War, and five separate six-month combat tours in Vietnam. In addition, he had awards for valor and heroism while under fire in all three conflicts. If only those medals could talk and speak of past battles fought and his gallantry displayed!
Looking beyond his uniform there were numerous photographs, and the ephemera that span one’s life of service to the nation. His wife was a German war bride, and it was quite obvious from the numerous photographs and letters that even though he may have been deployed on foreign soil fighting our nation’s wars she was always with him, if not physically but in spirit. They were inseparable.
Not only did the task of being the guardian of their legacy weigh heavy on me, but I realized that their story was not unique but really the story of many veterans who go to war and return, raise a family, and give back to their community. The sounds and sight of battles fought may still haunt them and have forever changed them. Theirs is a story of self-sacrifice, honor, and perhaps the painful memory of comrades lost while fighting for the freedom many of us today merely take for granted.
Veterans Day is the day we honor those in our community who, like the owner of my footlocker, served with pride and honor to preserve the nation founded almost 250 years ago. Though he may be gone like many other veterans, his legacy of self-sacrifice and service endures. May God bless all of our veterans and the United States of America!