Special moments sneak up on us
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Special moments sneak up on us. In reality, we don’t always know that we’re experiencing the extraordinary when in the immediate throes. In that regard, special moments are like a white cloth absorbing red wine: the realization spreads gradually. When we look back over our lives, be we young or old, we can often see those moments more clearly. I’ve been blessed to have many such instances, and with a few of them, I knew, lickety-split, the honor bestowed on me, but with others, the privilege of the moment came with time.
Straight out of college and green as the day is long, my days were spent gallivanting along the Cumberland River, giving interpretive history tours for the Kentucky State Parks. Because of that, I was privileged to meet a multitude of interesting people, but a reunion of elderly gentlemen, both black and white, was special. Their claim to fame – they were members of the Eighth US Army, the first fully integrated unit during the Korean War, which, historically, began as a result of heavily depleted units and, by war’s end, was an Army-wide policy.
They told many stories – some war, some life, marriage, children, and grandchildren – and they prodded and joked with one another, as old war buddies often do. It was clear that they were brothers and bonded for life, showing a genuine and unique camaraderie, picking up whenever and wherever they left off, and while, history buff that I am, I was immediately interested and amused by their stories, it wasn’t until much later that I thought how much we could actually learn from them. They didn’t speak of race or segregation, because to them, if ever it did, it no longer existed, though they were clearly proud of what they had done and were, at some points, both quick-witted and sincere. They spoke of patriotism and brotherhood and an unadulterated belief in the greatness of America.
Like the accomplishment by which history will remember them, their bond was something time couldn’t take away. I’ve thought a lot about them over the years. Where we often see hardship and strife, they saw only freedom and blessings. Theirs was an outlook that has served America well. It’s been a driving force throughout our history: from Yorktown to Valley Forge, Manassas to Gettysburg, for blue and gray, Korea and Desert Storm and every conflict before or since. Sadly, I’m afraid that belief doesn’t exist anymore, or dwindles quickly, with each passing generation. In 2022, we look at the world and see only ourselves and our own reflections. These men did not. They looked at one another and saw an equal. As modernity seems inclined to riot and loot and foster division, generations before us calmed those storms; we need not forget that greater men and women than you and I existed. They served and sacrificed and paved a way, inspired by the promise of handing us a new and better tomorrow.
Today, as we allow differences to divide us, enemies of America are watching: cheering our divisions and our hatred. While we’re seeing status, conflicts, politics, and diversions, they see only weakness. I was fortunate to spend time with a group of men who didn’t, whose service and beliefs inspired genuine change, and I count it a blessing, even for those fleeting moments, to have spent time with a group of gentlemen who, literally, changed the world.