For the first 10 days of 40 Days of Honor we focused on young men from our area who gave their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. And while Memorial Day is truly meant to honor their sacrifices, there are many still living in our area who served with significance in some of the hardest circumstances any man could face – and lived to tell the story.
Four men sit at a round table. Their conversation is fascinating. I am sitting there with them, but my job is to be as quiet as possible. Two men are on my right and two are on my left. On my right is a pair of World War 2 veterans, Ray Dyer and Gerald Kidd. Ray is 86 years old. He has a black ballcap that proudly announces his WW2 veteran status. He lives in Longview. Gerald is 88 years old and lives in Pontotoc. Between them they spent nearly 6 months as POWs (Prisoners of War) in Germany. How they made it through everything is an amazing tale of long train rides, cramped quarters, and improbable risks. Their stories will make you laugh and cry.
On my left is a pair of Vietnam veterans, Smitty Harris and Gene Smith. Smitty is 83 years old and lives in Tupelo. Gene is from West Point and at age 77, the youngster of the group. As they listen to the World War 2 vets share their story, two things are obvious. First is that the young veterans of Vietnam admire and appreciate the old veterans of World War 2. Second, both Smitty and Gene identify with Ray and Gerald’s stories as POWs. They identify with them because they had been there, too. Both Smitty and Gene were Air Force fighter pilots in the 1960s, shot down over North Vietnam. Between the two of them they have a combined 14 years as POWs. How they made it through everything is an amazing tale of sheer survival. Their stories will blow your mind, break your heart, and leave you speechless.
And in the end of everyone’s story, you will feel just like I did sitting at the table listening to them talk: just be quiet and listen, these men have earned the right to talk.