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:
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.”