Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thoughts--Random but Heartfelt

Nearly ten years ago, I decided to write a book about something that interested me--the World War Two bombers and the men who flew them. I didn't have much of an idea of where to go with the book, and made several false starts before hitting on a way that felt right to me. As I worked, I met one WWII vet after another, and most generously and trustingly opened up to me, invited me into their homes, let me spend the night on a spare bed, showed me their old photos, and most important, shared their lives with me. Five years of hard travel and even harder writing and the book was done.

And the amazing thing is--if the book had never sold a single copy, it was all worth it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

I set out to write a book. I ended up making friends for life. I cherish each one of these men more than any material possession that the earth could give me.

Which is why the past few years have been hard. When all your best friends are in their eighties, and many are pushing ninety, you spend a lot of time saying goodbye.

I spend time each week talking to my best friend, who happens to be 91. He has dementia and possibly Alzheimers. Our conversations are filled with laughter, reflections on the pain of aging, and stories of the past. My friend flew two tours of duty over Europe, first as a B-17 bombardier (he saw his pilot die and nearly died himself on the same mission), and then as a bombardier on A-26 Intruders and B-26 Marauders.

Over a year ago, I helped him put together his memoirs. They are poignant, often funny, and at times very sad. When I read it, I can hear him remembering it all over again. He does this less each week.

In June, I'm going to go see him where he lives in the deep south. It will be a joyous meeting. We met once before, some years ago, in New Jersey, for only a few brief minutes. This time, we'll take our time.

I set out to write a book. Instead, I learned what's important in life.

How lucky is that?

5 comments:

Richard Havers said...

One of the reasons that you write Rob is because you're really good at it. You're good because you can say a great deal in a few words. Economy in a writer is an undervalued commodity.

Thanks for making me think....of course that's what all the best teachers do.

Les said...

Leonard Herman is one of God's greatest blessings in your life, Rob and you are one of his. Please take a moment and think about this: I and others might never have known who Leonard Herman was if you didn't write Untold Valor or Combat Bombardier. Now he will forever be an inspiration in the hearts and minds of your readers, including me.

Also, I am grateful that you wrote about ball-turret gunners in Untold Valor, otherwise the bravery of my Grampa that is so close to my heart might be lost forever.

I could go on and on...

We often, I think, can't see the good work we are doing. Please keep it up. Thanks, Les

Les said...

p.s. one of the best things a person can do for someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's (in my opinion) is to simply be there. The toughest battle of my grandfather's life wasn't fought in 1944, it was in 2007. I hope to meet him again one day and give him a great big hug, but then, sometimes I think I do that on a daily basis.

Urban Infidel said...

Very nice blog. I appreciate what you are doing here.

Anonymous said...

This was very touching.
I was so lucky to have been contacted by a gentleman who served with my father on a B-17 almost 50 yrs after my father's passing. Though they never saw each other after the war, he helped me piece together a picture of my father as a young man. We continued to correspond until his passing and I will always thank God for that small window of time.
The ending was sad but the experience was priceless.
You are doing a wonderful thing in continuing to tell their stories.