Today, I Will Remember.


69th%20Infantry%20Division%20patch

Today we remember D-Day.

I, like most of you, have listened to the speeches online, and have seen the pictures. As a history buff, I find myself drawn to the countless documentaries, movies, and reports that have come front and center as we move towards the anniversary. I get lost in them. I marvel, with respect, at the courage, the bravery, and the sacrifice men, half my age, made so long ago.   I think about those boys, and realize that many are no longer with us, and all have moved well beyond the point where anyone would call label them as such.

Today, as I reflect on this moment and the images that bounce around my television and my computer, my memory keeps turning to one veteran of WWII in particular;

Milton W. Halainen.

As a boy, he was just Uncle Milt, and he held an incredible place in my life, and the life of my family.   As a little boy, I remember his visits, and how me and my sisters would always be excited when he and his wife arrived at our home, or we his. When I was a boy, he was a bigger than life man.   I loved every part of the man he was.   I loved how he made us laugh.   I loved how he made our home when he was there.   I loved how he just seemed bigger than life. Uncle Milt passed on when I was in college, and I think about those memories, and I realize that even today, they mean so much to me.

As a boy, it was my Dad, my Uncle Eddie, and Uncle Milt who defined for me, what being a man was supposed to be. I am sure there is a bit of mythology packed into my recollection of each. Yet, as a boy, I wanted to be some combination of these three men.

I remember him today, for when he was a barely a man, he served in the 769th Ordinance of the 69th Infantry Division during WWII. I remember being younger than my youngest and sitting with him, as he showed me pictures from a scrapbook.  I saw, in black and white, snapshots of what was for him certainly life changing.   I recall seeing him on skis, at a concentration camp, and in boot camp. I saw pictures of what was left of Germany and his time there.  Although, I have no recollection whether he was there for Normandy, I know that he was there for the nightmare that followed.

Today, I both treasure and regret that moment I spent by his side.   I treasure the time spent with a man I truly loved and respected, but I also regret not having the knowledge to ask him the right questions.  Thinking back today, I have a great many.

I would love those answers today.   I would have loved to have talked with him about courage, fear, and bravery.   I would have loved to ask his advice. I would have loved to talk with him as a man, not a boy. I would have loved to share a scotch with him.

I was young. I didn’t understand the scope of what those pictures revealed or the pain that must have been behind those stories.   I missed that doorway he opened for me. Today, that missed opportunity ranks up there as one of my life’s regrets.

From time to time I find pictures and I remember Uncle Milt and how special he was for all of us.   Today, I remember.   Today I remember all the men like him who undertook a journey that I cannot even imagine, and who returned to be bigger than life to countless little boys like me.   Today I remember that moment 70 years ago, and think how it must have changed – perhaps even determined – the man I wanted (and want) to be.   Today, I think of the man who will be one third of how I always measure myself.

Today I remember the many men like him, some still here, many more gone.  As I remember Normandy, I will remember the men behind the stories.   Today, I will remember heroes, and thank them for being larger than life.

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