My son shook a war hero’s hand this Memorial Day weekend
I'm proud of my son.
He's 13, and one of the most responsible people you'll ever meet. He is a straight A student. Plays in his middle school's band. He's kind and empathetic and a hundred other good things. But I don't think I've ever been prouder than this weekend. You see he came home from school last week talking about a video series his class had been watching. It was interviews with various veterans, and one in particular caught his eye. An interview with 92 year old Archie Fagan. It detailed his time in World War II. In it he spoke eloquently, insisting he was not a hero as heroes always do, but merely a war survivor.
He was in the U.S. Army from June of 1944 until his honorable discharge is December of 1946. In that time he interrogated German prisoners and was in the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp and was later called as a military observer in the Nuremberg trials.
It was his description of the horrors he saw liberating those camps that brought the war home for my son. The pure evil of it. Prisoners so emaciated that they could barely walk, clinging to life, yet found the spirit to kiss the feet of the Americans freeing them. In this video Archie Fagan described the terrible helplessness of these people being so far gone that they couldn't even feed them at first though they were starving. They first had to give them medicine before it was even safe for their bodies to start accepting food once more.
My son and I talked a lot about the war and I explained to him how close Hitler came to winning. How if it were not for these brave men willing to lay down their lives we wouldn't be here today, not as we are. How the whole world would have been different. He wanted to meet Archie. So this Memorial Day weekend we went to the ShopRite in Flemington where he works. Yes, at 92 years old the ever-positive ever-energetic Archie Fagan is still working at a job he loves. He greets customers, does their p.a. announcements, helps people find what they're looking for and does whatever needs to be done to help out the operation. He's been there since 1993. The video above is from 10 years ago, when Fagan was 82.
We asked at the customer service counter if Archie happened to be there that day. I explained my son just wanted to shake his hand after hearing his moving story of what it was like to fight in the war. Sure enough, he was there. She paged him and in a minute there he was, smiling ear to ear as if he already knew why we were there the moment he saw my son Jack.
With great poise and no shyness, my son introduced himself and explained where he attended school and that he had seen his interview. He told him how impressed he was by his story and what he had done for our nation, and told him he came there just to meet him and to shake his hand, and to say thank you for his service.
I almost cried. I was so proud of him for having the patriotic heart of an American and for wanting to let this 92 year old man know even now, a generation born after September 11th still cared about the people who fought for us. Archie of course being so humble said, "I'm not a myth I'm just a human being." I had mostly let my son do the talking but when Fagan said that I couldn't help but add, "But sir, the fact that you were all just human beings makes what you did all the more amazing."
I know Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor our war dead. Yet meeting Archie Fagan who survived it all made for a touching and memorable moment my son and I will always remember. Speaking of remembering, one other thing Archie told my son was, "Remember, always remember, America is still worth fighting for."
I'm proud of my country.
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