It was a gorgeous early summer morning back in 2014. I parked my car in the bank’s lot as far from the door as possible so as to get a few extra steps on the Fitbit and a few extra seconds of glorious sunshine before returning to the Daily Drudge at The Office.

The Old Guy parked back there with me and as it was obvious we were both headed to the same destination I figured why not strike up a Friendly Conversation on the way to the teller line.

The Old Guy looked to be early seventies, lean and spry and was wearing a baseball cap that simply said “Airborne”.

“Airborne vet?” I queried.

(Nothing escapes my steel-trap mind…)

“Yes,” the Old Guy replied.

“Vietnam?” I asked.

“No,” said the Old Guy. “Second World War.”

“Oh. Pacific or Europe?”

“Europe. France.”

“France? Where abouts?” I wondered.

“Sainte-Mere-Eglise,” said the Old Guy.

A chill ran up my arms and legs.

“You were a paratrooper with the 82nd?” I said. “On D-Day? At Sainte-Mere-Eglise?”

“Yes.”

“Holy shit.”

I just blurted it out.

The Old Guy laughed.

“You heard of it then,” said the Old Guy, not really a question but more a statement of surprise.

“Heard of it? Oh yeah. Sir, you are a Genuine American Hero,” I said. “May I shake your hand?”

He offered up his paw to meet mine.

The Old Guy had a grip like a steel vise.

“I’m no hero,” said the Old Guy. “I didn’t do anything but jump out of an airplane, land in a tree and break my leg. I spent most of my time in France in a field hospital then they shipped me back to England and from there back to the States.”

I stood there mouth agape in awe and didn’t know what to say.

The Old Guy jumped into Nazi-occupied Normandy, behind the German lines without knowing if The Invasion would succeed or not and he says he’s “no hero”?

Finally I stammered out again: “Sir, you are a Genuine American Hero. Thank you for your service. I’ve never met anyone so brave in my life.”

I could tell the Old Guy was greeting a bit uncomfortable with with my effusive praise.

“The other guys, the one’s that made it to the town, they were the real heroes. I was just a dumb 20 year old kid who didn’t know any better,” he said with a laugh

Right then the teller said “Next,” and the Old Guy left the queue to do his business.

By the time I was done the Old Guy had left the bank. I hurried out to the parking lot to try and catch him, get his name and offer to buy him a cuppa joe but his car was gone.

“Sainte-Mere-Eglise, wow,” I thought as I opened up my car door.

A shiver ran though me again.

The Old Guy was ninety years old, still in shape and strong as a young guy who slings concrete block for a living.

If I was ever in need of somebody to watch my back in a dark alley that Old Guy is the guy I’d want there to help me out.

Come to think about it, he already did.

 

 

Postscript: Sainte-Mere-Eglise video clip from “The Longest Day”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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