The stories that we tell
Washington, November 6, 2019
This article was originally published in The Highland County Press.
You probably haven't heard of Larry Miller. Larry is an everyday American citizen in his 70s. Most people would know him as a retired management consultant living in north Reading, Pa.
However, over the past eight years, he has been accomplishing something extraordinary.
Driven by a desire to ensure history is not lost, Larry has been carefully documenting the personal accounts of World War II veterans, recording their stories on video to be stored on file at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Before he retired, he had interviewed 437 World War II veterans, according to Military.com.
Among them, the article notes, is Carl Constein, an American vet who flew 96 missions carrying supplies from India to China during World War II.
Larry also interviewed Calvin Summers, an African-American soldier who was wounded in Italy in 1944 but never received his Purple Heart before he passed away at age 94. He heard the story of Mahlon Fink, who was only 19 years old when he landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima.
These aren't names you would read in a history book, but maybe they should be.
These individual stories of ordinary Americans' personal sacrifice and courage during an incredibly difficult period of history are deeply important. Whether they are passed down around the dinner table, or formally archived in a museum, these stories need to be remembered because they say something about who we are as a nation, and who we are as people.
Each of these stories is a link between a past we did not experience and a future we can't yet know, providing touchstones for what we can accomplish in the face of great evil and amidst deeply difficult times.
Without an understanding of this narrative, we risk becoming untethered from the legacy of courage, independence, and spirit that defines our collective identity. Just like a family identity can give an individual a sense of place and purpose, so our national legacy provides us with a foundation from which to face the challenges of the decades ahead.
It is because of this storied legacy that we can face the future without fear. It is because we know that throughout history, ordinary Americans – like Carl, Calvin and Mahlon – have risen to the challenge when destiny called. They accomplished extraordinary things. They weren't trying to be heroes.
In fact, most veterans you talk with will balk at that term or brush it aside. They were just doing what needed to be done. But they faced down evil. They endured great personal sacrifices. They filled the gap.
On Veterans Day, we honor our American veterans with gratitude and humility over the many gifts they have purchased for us at such a high price to their own peace, safety, and well-being: freedom, peace, prosperity, opportunity – and, less tangibly, a legacy of courage and commitment. Take a moment today to read some of their stories.
Talk to a neighbor who served or call up a relative who is familiar with your family's history. Visit a library or google veterans’ stories from your state, any conflict, or branch. Remember their names and share what you’ve learned about their lives with the people around you.
By reciting these stories, we not only honor the individual veterans who have gone before us, but also remind ourselves of the charge: When our time comes, may we be able to say we did our part.