I met a guy the other night.
He was sitting in a booth by himself at a small roadside restaurant on the outskirts of Richmond, VA. My youngest son and I were there for a pre-golf tournament dinner in the back room of the place.
When we walked in, I saw him there with his World War II veteran hat, so I asked my son to go on without me. I was hoping to hear his story.
He said it was 5:10 in the morning when he jumped. He was a paratrooper with the Screaming Eagles (101st Airborne Division). It was June 6, 1944… Normandy.
On the way down, while in the air, he was hit in the back by two pieces of exploding shrapnel. Once on the ground, he waited for five hours in a contested landing zone before medics got to him and got him out.
After a few months in recovery in England, he was reassigned and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. It started on December 16th of the same year. At 94, he knew his dates cold. (He was born in 1922.)
At one point, he said, “Do you want to see a picture of me in the war?”
“Of course,” I said.
“There’s a little white Ford out there in the parking lot. In the back seat behind the driver’s seat is an envelope. If you bring that in here, I can show it to you. The car’s unlocked.”
When I got back, he pulled out this iconic picture with General Eisenhower. It was taken the night before the D-Day jump.
Slowly pointing, he said in his 94-year-old voice, “See this guy right here.” He pointed to the soldier in the background that’s closest to Ike’s face (highlighted). “That’s me.”
James Early Wood is a 212er and a Smover. His example (commitment, resilience, work ethic) and his kindness (my interruption was greeted with an invitation) inspire me to be a better person in my second half.
I want to be that guy.
A little more…
When I got home after meeting James, I spent a little time revisiting WWII history. When I looked around for the iconic Ike picture above, I found a video of the moment (begins at 0:32 … watch it below … unfortunately, there’s no sound). The restaurant has my number. They say he comes in every day, so I’m guessing I’ll have a chance to show him the clip soon if he’s not already seen it.