I will never know what it is to be a soldier. It's that simple. Anyone who claims they can estimate what it might be like who has never served is a fool and deserves a swift punch in the face. I have immense respect for those that have served in the armed forces of any nation. Growing up, it was well-known amongst my family and friends that I was fixated on World War II, but this was largely misunderstood.
They wondered often why I had no interest in the military. It was similar to why they couldn't figure out my lack of interest in actual space travel and astronomy when I loved Star Wars so much. In the case of the latter, it's because I wasn't interested in lunar landers. I was interested in star fighters. When it comes to the former, I really just have a seething hatred for Nazis and a great love of propeller-driven aircraft.
I don't think I'd go back and change my decision. I've had the privilege of meeting and sometimes even interviewing men and women who's service goes all the way back to the Spanish Civil War and as recent as the War in Iraq. I've heard firsthand accounts of being a prisoner in Stalag Luft III, going down in a B-17 over northern France, leaping out of a landing craft into a wall of German bullets on Omaha Beach and yes, even being a Hitler youth conscripted into the Wermacht at the desperate end of the war and wanting nothing more than to surrender to Americans or the British before being killed or worse, caught by the Russians.
My Eagle Scout medal was pinned on my chest by Col. Robert Morgan, the pilot of the Memphis Belle, on May 17th, 1993, the 50th anniversary to the day of the Belle's completion of its 25 missions over Nazi-held Europe, as I had restored the radio room at RAF Bassingbourne's original air tower where the Belle operated during the war.
I spent many hours at the home of George Freson, a C-47 cargo pilot in Burma who dodged Japanese snipers, and Harold Hart, a Navy man in the Pacific Theatre. I knew Otto Meikus, a crew chief who repaired Flying Fortresses in England during the way, and I interviewed Hal Weekly, a B-17 pilot who narrowly escaped capture after being shot down.
For every one of the men and women I've had the privilege of meeting, I've read about at least 50 others. There were the Americans who volunteered with the Royal Air Force almost two years before Pearl Harbor and fought in the Battle of Britain. Eugene Tobin, Andy Mamedoff, Vernon Keough and Art Donahue. None of them would survive the war. Three would be dead before Pearl Harbor occurred.
It isn't just Americans who exhibited extreme bravery in World War II. For every Audie Murphy or Tuskegee Airman in the U.S. Armed Forces, there were just as many in the British ranks. Guys like “Mad Jack” Churchill, who carried a sword into combat; Douglas Bader, a Spitfire pilot with two artificial legs; Major Robert Cain V.C., who disabled Tiger Tanks at Arnhem while firing a mortar from his hip; and New Zealander Charles Upham who won the coveted Victoria Cross twice and when caught in barbed wire with a German pistol to his head while trying to escape a prison camp, Upham's only response was to ignore the guard and light up a cigarette.
Growing up with films like The Great Escape, The Longest Day and television shows like Combat and Rat Patrol laid the foundation of my interest and respect in what these people risked and died for from 1939-1945. They also helped ensure that while I was not destined to serve, I would spend my time serving those who did wear the uniform. Heck, if I wasn't doing RetroBlasting, I'd probably be hosting a history channel on YouTube about World War II.
Thank your local veterans every November 11, because too many will never hear that thanks, buried in far-off lands never to come home.