Growing up on the farm in Northeastern Ohio, there wasn’t a lot of exposure to world events. It wasn’t like it is today with 24-hour news cycles and constant bombardment of news and information. We had three channels on the TV, maybe a couple more if you could use the electric antenna rotor to get some UHF channels with snow. We had the local radio stations and the Record Courier newspaper. What I learned about World War II was mostly from two sources: the history teachers in school and the men in my life who were boy-warriors in far-away places and who rarely would discuss anything about their exploits. It was too horrible to talk about. One thing I learned from them: Freedom was expensive.
There was Lloyd Pardee. He lived nearby in Wayland. One of my Dad’s close friends. A gentle man with an easy smile and a dry wit. Sometimes he seemed distant. Dad would explain to me that at barely 18 he went into the Air Force and became a tail gunner on a plane. Lloyd had confided in Dad the very horrors of that job, which usually had a life expectancy of four flights, or about two weeks. Lloyd sometimes took the place of fellow airmen who had been killed in action, having to move their remains out of the way and sit in their blood to defend the aircraft from attackers. When you looked at Lloyd, his humility veiled a bold and courageous man. He raised a wonderful and patriotic family. The hand of God upon him.
My uncle Bob Harris served in the Philippines. There were times when he had flashbacks. My dad would get a call from my aunt and he would find Uncle Bob, talk him down and hold him until the terror passed. Uncle Bob was decorated for his service. Warren McCarthy and Gene Flynn served on D-Day. They survived it. And they, too, were decorated war heroes. Not much of what they did was ever discussed. But you somehow knew that they were special. My dad, who was a farmer during the war, was best friends with these men. They all endured so much. They were among the finest men I knew growing up. All these men knew the price of freedom and they understood their civic duty to their families, their God and their country. These men grew up on farms or in rural areas, the values of God, family, country sown into their being.
As adults, Lloyd and Uncle Bob worked in factories; Uncle Bob also farmed; Gene was a postal worker; Warren was a skilled carpenter and farmer. They all returned from the war and made their homes in the same area they grew up. Common men with uncommon valor. When my friend Sonny and I roamed our backwoods emulating the rugged Sergeant Chip Saunders played by Vic Morrow in the series “Combat,” our love of country and sense of responsibility was shaped by men like Lloyd, Bob, Gene and Warren. They and others like them, farm boys as kids, heroes as men, inspired and modeled courage for us. As the Lord told Joshua “Be strong and of good courage: be not afraid, neither be dismayed; For the Lord thy God is with you wherever you go.” They have all passed on to the Lord, but their legacy lives in my heart.