He had a strong handsome face. I observed the old veteran as he sat there watching the crowd. He didn't know that I was looking at him. His skin was darkened from years in the sun. It was surprisingly smooth-looking for his eighty-six years of life. He still had his hair, although it had thinned.
He mostly sat. His legs were weakened by years of hard use. He had once been young and strong, a cross country sprinter. Now his legs were bowed and barely able to get him from the car to his house. He was not a tall man, but he bragged about taking down men that were bigger than he. He would surprise them with his strength and agility. They would only mess with him once.
When the official walked down the line of old veterans, shaking their hands as he went, the old veteran rose to his feet. He needed some help to get up. He stood there on wobbly knees. When the officer paused in front of him, and shook his hand, he stood tall and firm. The pride of this old warrior still ran strong within his bones.
He had been but a boy when he enlisted. He had lied about his age. He left his family and his small town, for a war across the ocean. How could he ever know the changes it would make in his life? He would change from a boy to a man. His life would never be the same.
We walked away from the flag pole at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach and stopped at the first tombstone. The date of death was June 6, 1944, the day of the landing at Normandy. The young man, who lay under the freshly mowed lawn, had died the first day of the invasion. He had given his life without even reaching the age of twenty.
But here sat this old veteran. He had been one of the lucky ones. He had been fortunate enough to marry and have kids. He had been able to live in a free country and practice the religion of his choice.
I studied his blue eyes. He had been a handsome man in his youth. If you studied him carefully, you would see that he still was a fine-looking man. His blue eyes had faded with time, but they could still sparkle, when he would recall a story, or find humor in a joke.
At other times, they would water or cloud over. This would often happen as he looked back on his life, or he thought about the war.