Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Old Soldiers Never Die . . .

There is the saying, “they don’t make them like they used to.” It usually comes up when someone from a previous generation reminisces about the good old days when a loaf of bread was just a nickel.

I never thought that I would be one of the folks to dredge up that old chestnut, but here I am. The irony, however, is I’m not even talking about something from my generation, but rather from the one that preceded me.

For the last couple of weeks my best buddy, Mario, and I have been watching the phenomenal HBO series Band of Brothers. I had seen it before when it originally aired on cable and I’ve always maintained that it is one of the classiest miniseries depicting a great story of true heroism during some of the darkest days of World War II. I had always vowed to get the DVD version and this past Christmas it was my gift to me.

Mario had never seen it but I convinced him, as I try to convince everyone, of the value of watching the full ten hours so over a period of a couple of weekends we made it a male bonding exercise as we watched the ravages of war.

When watching this story unfold, learning about the lives, training and battle scars of the men of “Easy Company,” from the 101st Airborne, one thing was painfully clear. This was a special breed of men, but not a rare breed for the times. I am reminded of the recent Tom Brokaw book entitled The Greatest Generationwhich chronicles this time period. These were guys who, hardened by the depression, were polished into the tough diamonds in the rough, ready for some of the harshest battle situations modern man had seen.

Throughout the series Mario and I concurred that our generation isn’t quite up to the task that they went through. It was a different era and these men were moulded by their times. Oh sure, we have some strong individuals today, especially in our military, but not to the numbers that once were. Today these men are the exception, not the rule. Collectively our generation is a little soft, even the tough ones like Mario, who is a police officer.

But where are these men today? Even in their old age they are still tough as nails. I am reminded of this because of a couple of stories that appeared in the news within the last month. Both stories deal with veterans – men who are perhaps slowed by age, but who still have the same sense of right and wrong. Men that you really shouldn’t mess with, but for some reason there are dolts from the younger generation who are just too slow to realize this valuable point.

For instance, there is a guy in North Texas named James Pickett. He’s 80-years-old, a World War II veteran, former fighter and a lifelong John Wayne fan. Back in February he was confronted by two armed brothers inside his home on a Saturday night.

Police believe the siblings, joined at the hip by DNA and a few shared brain cells, went to Pickett’s home with the intent to rob him and even possibly kill him, but Pickett was having none of that.

When his doorbell rang and he opened it, the two brothers, Paul and Holden Perry, barged inside. Pickett said, “He just come through that door stabbing and beating.”

However, just before he went to answer the door, Pickett had placed a pistol into his pocket. The Perry brothers stabbed and beat – Pickett simply shot. The brothers ran, but didn't get far before calling an ambulance. One of the bullets just missed Paul Perry's spine.

A neighbour of Pickett called him a hero. Pickett’s response was, “Well, I ain't got no business being a hero, by no means.” Pickett might not know a double negative but he certainly knows how to defend himself.

Both brothers face assault, burglary and robbery charges. Deputies assured Pickett they aren't likely to get out of jail anytime soon. However, he didn't seem that worried. “I think I'm a ten times better shot than he is,” he said. “... But, they best not come back.”

Like his hero John Wayne, that’s what you call true grit! Perhaps this is something the younger generation knows nothing about, but it’s a lesson the Perry brothers won’t soon forget.

Another youngster who won’t forget his valuable lesson is a lad in his mid teens in Santa Rosa, California. In late March he thought it might be a good idea to try to rob a former U.S. Army paratrooper . . . yes a former member of the 101st Airborne.

81-year old Donald Clouston was walking with a grocery bag in each arm and $100 in his pocket when the boy approached him with a large knife. The kid said, “Old man, give me your wallet or I'll cut you.”

In what has to be considered fair warning Donald told the boy he was a former paratrooper who fought in three wars and had been threatened with much bigger knives and bayonets. The former Staff Sergeant then put his bags on the ground and told the boy that if he stepped closer he would be sorry. The boy stepped closer . . . he was sorry.

Donald kicked him in the groin, knocking him to the sidewalk, then while down he also kicked him in the teeth. While the delinquent was doubled over contemplating the hard lesson he just learned Donald calmly picked up his grocery bags and walked home. He reported the attempted robbery to police 45 minutes later.

The cops are still looking for the kid, described only as 15 or 16 years old, and are asking for help from the public. I suggest they look for someone who’s not smiling and has a bag of frozen peas on his crotch.

Perhaps these kids should just stay home and watch the DVD of Band of Brothers. They’ll learn about dedication, camaraderie, battling through hardships, and yes, true grit. And they’ll also learn to respect older men who knew the meaning of freedom and fighting for their rights, who could drop them like a ton of bricks.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.

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