It didn’t matter that he was the youngest in his squadron or that he had never flown a plane. All he knew was he believed in himself, believed in his comrades and above all else, believed in his country.

As the navigator for the 401st Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force during World War II, dad completed 266 missions.

“The train dropped me off and I had to walk three or four miles to get home,” dad said of the day he returned home from the war. “My parents were sitting on the screened-in front porch, just like they always were. They didn’t even recognize me when I came up the walk. Finally, I had to ask them if they were going to let me in. That’s when she began to cry.”

I’d heard the story 100 times about my grandma’s relief when her son returned home from the war. It was one of the good memories for dad as he’d spend quality time scouring over his picture albums and other keepsakes of his time spent in the military.

Dementia robbed dad of remembering day to day occurrences, although the memories of being in the war – so deeply ingrained – played a major role in his life. Most conversations were centered on life in the cockpit of the plane and, most times, were told with a smile and ending on a good note.

As dad began to tell the story again of the return to his parents’ house, I noticed tears forming in his eyes. By the time he was done, we were both crying. Over the years as he’d describe the flights, the bombings and the love he had for those who served beside him, he never once said how scared he was, how lonely and how glad he was to return home until his dementia began to take away the happy memories.

I tried to comfort him as the tears flowed, but that wasn’t what he wanted. He just wanted me to listen, so I did, and handed him his handkerchief when there were more tears than words. Seeing my dad cry was something I never thought would happen, but once he let the emotions out, his stories could momentarily be about happier times.

Dad had no idea the day of the week, month, year or holidays such as Veterans Day. What he could remember, until his very last breath, was he had served our country – with all his might, worth and heart. There is no greater service than that of the military.

Thank a veteran today, tomorrow and every day. It’s their sacrifice that gives us our freedom.   

Sandy Turner lives in Independence, Missouri. Email her at sandydownhome@hotmail.com