Ten years ago I attended the grand opening of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. I attended a “canteen” in the morning hosted by John Cosgrove, and then attended the formal opening ceremonies, followed by the opening of the memorial itself. While there, I watched as two World War II veterans as they met each other for the first time: Bob Wallace, and Gordie Eaves, both double-amputees as a result of their landing at Normandy in 1944.
I took the first photo of them (below) at 5:36 p.m.
The Washington Post interviewed them for an article that was published the next day. I met them afterwards and took the second picture (below) at 5:46 p.m in the evening.
In the words of Gordie: “I was in the ETO theatre as a Medic in the Infantry, across northern France into Germany/ Landed at Omaha beach at the same spot that Bob did on ‘D’ Day but much later on.”
The following paragraphs are what I wrote at the time about what happened next.
Right after I took this picture was a moment I’ll never forget. Gordie reached out to me and took my right hand, and pulled me in a bit closer. He and Bob both looked at me, and Gordie spoke, and with the most disarming frankness I think I’ve ever experienced, he said “We sacrificed a lot for this country. We won’t live much longer. It’s yours now”.
I was floored. I looked at them both, and Bob was looking just as intently at me as Gordie was. It was as if these two were completely like-minded even though they had just met fifteen minutes earlier.
Gordie continued about our country, and said something like “Don’t take it for granted. Take good care of it.”
I was speechless. And I’m never speechless. (You can probably get a sense of that from all my droning on within this web page.)
I didn’t know what to say, but I eventually coughed up a “yes, sir, I will, sir.”
I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live.
Thank you, Gordie and Bob.
I took dozens of photos that day and posted them all, along with a narrative of the day’s events, online at this web page:
National World War II Memorial
At that page you’ll see photos of many events, including pics of Doc Scantlin and Chou Chou, who performed that weekend.
Bob was from Arkansas, and Gordie lived in Florida. I stayed in touch with them in the years that followed. Bob passed away a few years later, and Gordie and I exchanged sorrowful notes about it. Gordie passed away in 2007.
But their legacies live on, and I’ll never forget that day, nor Gordie’s words, which clearly spoke for them both:
“We sacrificed a lot for this country. We won’t live much longer. It’s yours now. Don’t take it for granted. Take good care of it.”