My daughter Bethany played in a piano recital at a nursing home last Friday afternoon. After the presentation I met an amazing man. His name was Jim Cole. Mr. Cole had blue ball cap on with big yellow letters: “I am a WWII Veteran.” The first thing he said to me was, “We should have sung ‘God Bless America.’” I introduced my boys to him and explained that they had been studying, reading, and writing about war. He told us that he was in WWII for a long time as an airplane pilot. He flew “the biggest bombers we had.” His summary of the war for the boys: “Germany and Japan were trying take over the world. And they almost did. About the only countries left were America and England. We had to stop them.”
By this time a dozen kids and adults had gathered around to listen to Mr. Cole. He was old and bent, but his clear voice and build revealed that he had once been a very strong man. “The Germans and Japanese had better planes than anyone at the beginning of the war. Faster and better maneuverability.” He stressed the importance of learning and being ready. “If someone tells you to go bomb a certain country, you can’t do it unless you know where it is on the map! When I was your age, I knew where the countries were on a map.” He leaned forward and shook his finger at the boys. “Learn! Learn! Don’t be a dummy! If we have to go to war again, it will be you boys who have to fight. Learn and be ready! You’ve got to think and use your brain. Use your head for more than a hat rack.”
While we were talking Anna and Meredith Riggins and Chloe and Emma Curtis prepared to sing “God Bless America.” They sang in harmony and it was beautiful! By this time there was no one left in the room but Mr. Cole and some of us who came for the recital. As they started to sing, his shaky, bruised hands reached for the walker sitting in front of him. He slowly pulled himself to his feet. He sang with them. His face was beaming. It may not be possible for these young ladies who sang to know what an amazing Christmas present that song was to Mr. Cole.
I was inspired by Mr. Cole’s strength, his sense of honor, his sense of responsibility, his desire to be ready, and his pride for our country.