These words, “Uncle Bert,” are as honey on my tongue. Oh how I love, love, love my Uncle Bert. He has passed on now, but my memory of him is as dear to me as fresh linen and new cotton socks.
It’s Veteran’s Day, and my Uncle Bert was a veteran. He was one of those lucky few who miraculously survived D-day, the Invasion of Normandy in June, 1944. I never spoke with him about his experience. Truth be known, I was too young really to understand the significance of what this brave man had done for me – and for all of us – all those years ago.
Uncle Bert is my mother’s oldest brother. She says he returned from the war a changed man. Ever after, he was as I knew him: tender-hearted, given to weep at the slightest provocation, a truly gentle-man who seemed to carry a great hidden weight around his heart.
And my, how he knew how to spin a yarn! He loved to sit and talk with his family and friends. Like his daddy, Bert was a respected member of the community and fiercely patriotic. There was a full-sized flag pole in his front yard with the stars and stripes reverently raised and lowered every day – not just on holidays. Like Will Rogers, he never met a man he didn’t like, nor did any man meet him who didn’t know him as a trusted friend. And he was a charmer. I remember that he always smelled nice; wore clean button-up shirts with a collar, nice slacks and shiny shoes. He was always clean-shaven and more often than not had a twinkle in his eye.
Once, our family came from a great distance to visit Uncle Bert and his wife. I will always remember how he took each of us – my sisters and I – on a tour of his house. This wasn’t a group tour hastily offered out of obligation. He invited each of us individually to visit every room in his home; to take our time, ask questions, and handle anything we wanted to. He could have so easily spent the time doing “grown-up” chat with the other adults; but chose instead to spend quality, personalized time with each child individually. I don’t know how that may have affected you, but that single act, more than anything else, made me feel like I was the most important person in his life that day.
Dear Uncle Bert, thank you for serving our country at a time when we all needed you. I know now that it was a hard thing: harder than you ever expected and harder than anyone who hasn’t been there can imagine. Thank you for staying alive and coming back home so that I could know you decades after you were there. Thank you for letting your experiences turn you toward humanity instead of against it. Thank you for teaching me what it feels like to be special and to be loved. You are one of my true heroes.
All my love,