It is not an easy task to entertain an auditorium full of teenagers, much less hold their attention for an hour. But with nothing more than a podium and a microphone, our 90 year-old guest spun a web of tales so compelling that even the lure of their normal distractions—phones, friends, and fatigue—couldn’t pull them away. Many sat on the edge of their seats, enraptured by the stories of the battlefield and captivated by first hand accounts of events they’ve only read about in their history books. It was a wonderful site to behold, a sea of young faces all turned toward a real American hero, World War II Veteran Arthur Staymates.
It’s one thing to watch Spielberg’s version in the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan, but it’s another thing entirely to hear about D-Day from a man who jumped into the water and swam through machine gun fire to get to a beach that many of his friends never made it to. When you hear that this was the first combat experience for many soldiers who rode in the landing craft, and that many of them would never even get a chance to fire a weapon, well it brings a whole new meaning to the concept of sacrifice. You don’t know tough until you hear about infantrymen who fought through two weeks of battle in Belgium in negative 20-degree weather and snow drifts five feet high with no shelter to shield them from the elements. To many of the kids in the audience, the Battle of the Bulge was just a colorful map in the World War II chapter of their textbooks…until today. And the black and white pictures of the Nazis at The Nuremberg Trials came to life during Lt. Staymates’ enthralling tale of his personal interactions with Hermann Goering, (the commander of the German Air Force from 1935 to 1945) while guarding his prison cell. Our guest, nicknamed “Lucky” during his military service for obvious reasons, deserves every medal pinned to his chest.
We are losing 934 World War II veterans every day. As each hero passes, they take with him or her a lifetime of stories and an oral history of a different era. But their legacy lives on in the traditions of our country. Their spirit is continued by the next generation of men and women who proudly wear the uniform of the United States military. Our freedom is protected by their service and our country is indebted to their sacrifice.
So, on this Veteran’s Day make a point to thank a veteran in your community. Buy a cup of coffee for the soldier who returned from Korea long ago, but can still smell the gunpowder of the battlefield. Shake the hand of a marine who spent too many rainy nights in the jungles of Vietnam. Pay a visit to a sailor who has stories to tell from the Gulf War. Send a card to an airman who is recovering from shrapnel wounds in a VA hospital, injuries inflicted during his third tour in Afghanistan. Hold open the door for an Army wife who is carrying a bag of groceries in one hand, a baby in the other, and the love of her husband in her heart—a man stationed halfway around the world who is missing out on first steps and little league games in the service of his country. Send off a new recruit with a word of encouragement as she volunteers to keep the rest of us safe from evil forces that still exist in the world. Replace your porch light with a green light bulb and then reflect on how small this gesture is in comparison to the willingness of some to give all. And count your blessings, for you live in the greatest country in the world and you can rest easy tonight while our sentries of freedom keep watch.
(To learn more about Lt. Arthur Staymates, watch this interview)
About the author
Stacey Carlin is a lifelong Buchanan resident and a wife, teacher, and mother of three. She is the author of a popular online blog titled “Layin’ Down Roots” - a collection of essays about life, family, and hometown pride. You can read more of her essays by visiting www.layindownroots.com. You can also find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/layindownroots. In addition, her columns are published in The Berrien County Record and The South Bend Tribune.