I was drawn to Vic the first time I saw him, probably because he reminded me so much of my own grandfather. His steps were slow--just a little--and his shoulders were slightly hunched, but his brown eyes still danced with the vigor of a younger man.
I first heard his story a few years ago, when we were each volunteering at our church's Vacation Bible School. We were taking our breaks at the same time, and we sat next to each other. I can't remember how it came up. Did I ask him if he was a veteran? Did he bring it up himself? I don't recall. What I do recall is that I spent the next hour next to him in motionless attention as he shared his war stories (literally, his war stories).
He enlisted in the Army Air Corp (now the Air Force) when he was only seventeen, and he was sent to the Pacific. He was a tail gunner in a B-29 when his plane was shot down over the ocean. He and his crew floated for days in enemy territory, sharks circling them. They were finally picked up by a U.S. ship. There were dozens of other stories as well, too many to recount here, and I could never do them justice. For the real story, you'd have to see the look in Vic's eyes when he describes the boys that didn't come home.
As the years have passed, I've had many opportunities to hear more of Vic's stories, and not just those about the war. He's told me about growing up in rural Florida during the Great Depression, when his mother would send him to school with only a jug of sugar water for lunch. And how they once went without food for six days when his mother managed to kill a turtle with her bare hands--they ate it all, and they were thankful.
He hasn't just shared his stories; he's shared his heart with our family. When I was in the hospital awaiting my daughter's arrival, he and his wife were the first ones to visit me. When our family misses church, he calls to make sure we're okay. When he learns that one of his old war buddies has passed away, he calls to tell me. And I listen. It's the very least I can do.
I am richer because of my friendship with this dear man. He has taught me much about sacrfice and strength and humility. And he has reminded me what rich stories his generation carries tucked deep inside, if my generation would slow down long enough to hear. This Veteran's Day, find someone who has a story to tell--and listen.