John was a World War II veteran who had a ton of stories to tell and a keen willingness to tell them. That is as long as you kept a cold rum and coke in front of him. He needed the proper “lubrication” to keep the vocal chords going.
John was man in his late eighties but still very spry. He had a weird sense of humor, which was probably a good thing because his wife seemed to have none at all. She was a surly woman who I never saw smile; John was never without one.
John was a rifle bearer for the Honor Guard. One day after performing their duties, the members of the Honor Guard were returning to the post to have a few drinks together, as was their custom. John walked calmly up to bar in full dress uniform and discharged his weapon toward the back of the bar.
The crack of the rifle echoed through the hall. If you’ve never heard a rifle discharged in a building, it’s loud. Beer flew into air, drinks were spilled, people scattered, some hit the floor. Even though I knew it was only a blank, it was still jarring to have a weapon discharged in your general direction.
A cloud of smoke hung in air along with the pungent smell of spent gun powder. For a moment after the echo of the rifle had disappeared there was total silence. Then there chaos. Some people were laughing, some people were not. Some people were cursing, especially John’s wife, who was there waiting for him. Once I made sure that I hadn’t soiled myself, I laughed, maybe as hard as I ever had in my life.
John was reprimanded by the post but that didn’t bother him. In fact, I’m not sure I ever saw anything bother him.
John was there that day on June 6th 1944. It’s estimated that 2,500 allied soldiers lost their lives on D-Day… but John didn’t. He had to hang around long enough to nearly scare me to death.
So heading into this Memorial Day weekend, I’m dedicating this blog post to John and every other veteran who is no longer with us.