COMMON SENSE, HUMILITY, AND COURAGE
The men and women of the Greatest Generation are passing, a huge loss for our nation, particularly as the common sense, humility, and courage that characterized nearly every one of them has become a rarity today. Recently World War II Veteran Donald Buska died on Tuesday, April 29 at age 86, another in a long line of modest and brave heroes who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to quote World War II veteran and poet John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
My father and mother were of that generation. Virtuous, well spoken, humble, brave, generous and filled with love for their family and country, they were models of citizenship and virtue. The words duty, honor, and country were ones they did not bellow to the world as if to demand acceptance but humbly lived every day, inspiring by example. My father, Ernest A. Emord (a.k.a. Tommy Reardon), a professional boxer from Brockton, Massachusetts before entering the service was ever ready to lay down his life for his country. He spent 33 years in the military. In his final years of service, despite age and rank, he wrote repeatedly to the Secretary of Defense requesting a combat assignment. He was mortified to see his country losing the Vietnam War and believed that if only he were allowed to join in the fight he might change the outcome or die while trying. He asked that he be substituted for a reluctant draftee or another who might do better serving his country at home, all to no avail.I once asked him what he thought the best form of death would be, and he said without hesitation that he could think of no better way to die than while fighting for his country.
In her early twenties at the close of World War II, my mother, who married my father while he was on leave, flew to Tripoli, Libya, to be with him. At that time Tripoli was very hard to reach by plane, dangerous territory, and recently liberated from Italian occupation at the assassination of Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini. The Army Air Corps discouraged my mother from going. When she remained insistent, the military relented and issued her a pistol and encouraged her to learn how to shoot it so she could protect herself in a land they described as besot with remnants of the Italian occupation, Arab violence, and crime. When approached by an Arab with a knife in an open market, she pointed her pistol at him and he quietly withdrew into a sea of humanity. She never had to shoot the weapon.
These thoughts come to mind as I contemplate the passing of Donald Buska. In hospice since the start of 2014, Buska harbored a simple yet profound dream. He did not desire a lofty prize, wealth, or recognition, he just wanted to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. and pose for a class photo with a former poker buddy.
A group called Big Sky Honor Flight of Montana learned of Buska and decided to pay for his trip. Despite severe illness, he flew to Washington. He went to the memorial and reminisced with his poker buddy. He went to Arlington National Cemetery with other veterans accompanied by a police escort. He watched the changing of the guard. His simple yet profound dream was realized. Then, less than eight hours after his return to Billings, Montana, Donald Buska peacefully left this earth. Having entered this life humbly, having served his nation nobly without fanfare or a desire for it, he returned to his Father in Heaven and his loving wife who predeceased him. He, like my father and mother who are likewise beyond the veil, touched the lives of many who will remember them as part of a generation that defined American greatness, a generation whose example beckons to all future generations, however far afield those generations are from that exemplary past.
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