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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Listening and learning from the best

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ivy Herron photo

Local veterans James C. Middledorf, of the U.S. Army Air Force; Bill Lynch, of the U.S. Army Infantry Rainbow Division; Harold Plunkett, of the U.S. Army Air Force; and Bill Morthland, of the U.S. Navy, attended the Veterans Day program at the Clay County Courthouse on Nov. 11.

"If you want to learn from your elders, you sit and listen when they're talking. Remember child, God gave you two ears and only one mouth, so hush up and listen."

Those few words are bits of the wisdom I received from the most influential person of my life. A member of what is known as the greatest generation, growing up with my Grandma Iva pretty much sealed my fate with regards to the person I am today.

Even now I have to chuckle at the memory of her dusting living room furniture with my grandfather's socks on her hands and feet while dancing to Glenn Miller records. It was during one of those "hush up and listen" times that I learned why she used Grandpa's socks. She told my great aunt that Grandpa was going to help with the housework one way or the other!

That quirky spirit continues on inside of me, as does the life lessons she taught.

Recently, I had the privilege to "hush up and listen" while talking to four incredible men about Veterans Day.

James C. Middledorf, of the U.S. Army Air Force; Bill Lynch, of the U.S. Army Infantry Rainbow Division; Harold Plunkett, of the U.S. Army Air Force; and Bill Morthland, of the U.S. Navy, were teenagers when they answered their country's call to service in 1941.

There were so many memories and stories about their service to country and lives afterwards that it was hard to keep up with it all.

Humorous and uplifting one moment, then serious the next, the men talked for almost an hour with great passion, weaving the story of their longtime friendship and love of country in such detail that it not only mesmerized myself, but several people who stopped to listen in on our conversation.

As the four prepared to leave, I asked what they would be doing special on the upcoming Veterans Day. All were planning to attend various events, but each man had their own personal reasons for going.

"I've never been to a Veterans Day program," Lynch said. "Wasn't personally invited to one before, but Les Walden asked me to come this year. So I'm going to."

Lynch had even called his grandson, who has his old uniform, so he could wear the original cap.

Plunkett planned on remembering an unsung hero pilot that came to the rescue of his B-17 bomber group when other pilots turned away from a battle.

"I'll remember Charles B. Hall while standing out front of the courthouse on Veterans Day," he said of the local World War II pilot. "If it wasn't for those Tuskeegee Airmen a lot of us in the B-17s wouldn't have come home."

The men said they were proud that Hall would soon be honored with a memorial in Brazil.

Morthland, a member of the Jackson Township Band, would be remembering the 15 members of his senior class that died in World War II while he was busy playing music for students at Greencastle Middle School.

The loss of fallen brothers was going to be on each man's mind, but Middledorf was especially worried about those who have no one to remember them anymore.

With the Veterans of Foreign Wars reporting an average of more than 1,200 World War II veterans dying each day, many are dying without families to remember them.

"As soldiers, we all made sacrifices to be in the war, but we came home to continue our lives," he said, trying to hold back his emotions. "Some gave it all. They didn't come home, didn't have a chance to continue their lives."

Middledorf told me about his best friend, Earl Maurice "Mac" Danhour, of Brazil.

"A gunner on a B-17, Mac was killed in a mid-air collision. His whole family is gone, died out. There's no one to remember him anymore," he said. "But I will."

It was truly a "hush up and listen" moment for everyone.

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