As I write this annual tribute to the men and women who are wearing or have worn the American armed forces uniform, I do so with the heavy regret that there are not many years remaining to tell our WWII vets how much their sacrifice and bravery is appreciated. You see, they are now near or in their nineties, and disappearing rapidly from our nation. Not far behind them are the brave souls who fought in Korea. The concept that you should say whatever you have to say to someone today because you never know if or when you’ll see them again has never been more urgent nor appropriate than it is this Veterans’ Day.
So, along with all the other treasured friends of mine who have served this country, I single out two very special friends for recognition this year.
Vahl Vladyka served in the Army Air Force’s 15th A.F. in Italy in 1944, flying B-24 Liberator heavy bombers in the 461st Bomb Group. He completed 19 combat missions as well as a POW supply drop. Ask anyone who flew bombers into the teeth of the German Reich, and if they are willing to give you any detail, it will be a hair-raising ordeal to hear about.
Bomber losses sustained in the first half of the war approached 20 per cent per mission, and the mortality rate of bomber crews attempting to complete their required 25 missions (later upped to 40) was greater than fifty per cent. One of every two bomber crewmen was not coming home. Yet, they flew their missions, making key contributions to prevent Germany’s ability to produce munitions and fuel for the war.
I met Vahl through another Liberator pilot I struck up a friendship with kind of by accident. Bill Washburn was Vahl’s best friend and buddy through flight training, and they remained fast pals during the war and after, although Washburn flew with the Mighty Eighth Air Force out of England. Before Bill passed away, he was kind enough to introduce me to Vahl when he came east to visit. You never met two nicer gentlemen in your life, and I keep in contact with Vahl at his Texas home.
Bob Murphy served as a rifleman in Gen. John Leonard’s Ninth Armored Division. The division was referred to by the Germans as “the Phantom Ninth”, because they never knew where it was going to appear. The Ninth was highly mobile, a product of Patton’s doctrine of rapid response and advance. Bob served all along the push to the German interior, as the Allied forces attempted to wrap the war up by forcing the Reichstag to capitulate quickly. The Ninth was the armored division to capture the Ludendorff Bridge intact at Remagen, a key strategic point as it was the last standing bridge across the Rhine River. Crossing the Rhine allowed the Allied forces access to Germany’s heartland, and the Germans had attempted to blow the bridge as Leonard’s forces approached. Thanks to some fast and very brave work by Ninth Division engineers and infantry, the bridge was preserved. It’s capture signified the end of Germany’s hope to hold out and sue for peace.
I met Bob in church, where he would take on any prayer concern you had with a soldier’s resolve. Although he lost his eyesight shortly after the war, he cultivated an inner vision of the Lord and a singleness of purpose when lifting the burdens of others in prayer.
I am blessed and honored beyond measure to count these two aging warriors among my friends. They embody the finest of their generation, one many times referred to as America’s greatest, to which I add my wholehearted assent.
As we honor our Veterans once more this year, let’s make a special effort to let those heroes marching out the last miles of their final campaign know how very much they are cherished and appreciated. Their sacrifice and service will never be forgotten.
Image: Courtesy of: http://vehiculosegundaguerramundial.blogspot.com/2013/03/consolidted-b-24-liberator.html