Taken for Granted

The Covington News - - Local news -

There’s a scene in the epic World War II film, “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan,” that al­ways gets me. The Tom Hanks char­ac­ter, Capt. Miller, at D-Day plus three, hav­ing en­dured 45 of his men killed and 90 wounded knock­ing out Nazi ar­tillery pieces, has been sum­moned to com­pany head­quar­ters, away from the ac­tion, for re­as­sign­ment. While awa i t i n g or­ders, the bat­tle-weary cap­tain takes in the sur­round­ings. Nearby, a sol­dier ca­su­ally shaves with wa­ter heated over a fire, while a com­pan­ion chows down on a freshly made Dag­wood-style sandwich.

Miller’s eyes widen as an or­derly pours thick, black cof­fee into a field cup for the Colonel. Miller’s rapt gaze con­veys his fer­vent de­sire for the cof­fee, yet none is of­fered to this man who sur­vived the car­nage of Omaha Beach and be­yond. The colonel turns and ad­dresses the cap­tain, the steam­ing cup of cof­fee taken for granted. Taken for granted... Later in the film, as Miller read­ies a hand­ful of men for a last-ditch de­fense of a vi­tal bridge, he vis­its ru­ined build­ings of a bombed­out French vil­lage. He at last finds a cof­fee maker, an espresso ma­chine of sorts, but de­spite his ev­ery at­tempt, no cof­fee will is­sue forth. De­part­ing, Miller pauses at the door and casts one last, furtive look at the cof­fee ma­chine.

Just one cup of cof­fee. That’s all he wanted. A cup of cof­fee, so eas­ily taken for granted by those who never dwell on the sure fact that each day, each moment, could be the last.

Taken for granted...

I re­flected on “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan” this week for a num­ber of rea­sons.

First, of course, was the win­ter storm event which af­fected our neck of the woods. Chil­dren had a great time sled­ding down the hills in our neigh­bor­hood. Birds and squir­rels went through 60 pounds of my bird­seed in two days. My old Jeep, de­rived from the time­less Gen­eral Pur­pose (GP, pro­nounced “Jeep”) ve­hi­cle which helped win World War II, gar­nered ap­pre­ci­a­tion for its abil­ity to go any­where.

Even if it was just a quick run to the gro­cery store, to get to work, to buy more bird­seed or for any other mun­dane trip, which, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, is so of­ten taken for granted. Taken for granted... A sec­ond rea­son for my re­flec­tion was news that Richard Win­ters has passed away. Win­ters had been thrust into the lime­light a few years ago when the ex­ploits of Easy Com­pany, 506th Parachute In­fantry Reg­i­ment, were tele­vised in the “Band of Broth­ers” mini-se­ries. A true hero, ev­ery­man’s idea of what a sol­dier should be, Win­ters shunned idol­a­try and in his will spec­i­fied that no­tice of his pass­ing be de­layed un­til af­ter the fu­neral. Richard Win­ters died Jan. 2, at age 92.

I last saw Dick Win­ters in the back­ground of a June 2009 news re­port com­mem­o­rat­ing the 65th an­niver­sary of the D-Day land­ings in Nor­mandy, France. Se­cu­rity was whisk­ing celebri­ties, in­clud­ing Hanks and the French prime min­is­ter, past an old man and his wife who were try­ing to get out of their way.

With­out so much as a glance, the of­fi­cial party swept past. As they did, the old man straight­ened to at­ten­tion, which caught my eye. My heart leapt into my throat as I rec­og­nized Richard Win­ters, “a Toc- coa man,” be­ing taken for granted. Taken for granted... The cold weather has been bru­tal, but 66 years ago “The Bat­tle of the Bulge” still raged in the Ar­dennes. Last Thurs­day morn­ing my back­yard ther­mome­ter reg­is­tered 18 de­grees, with the sun shin­ing on it. Our GI’s, in­clud­ing Win­ters, en­dured Amer­ica’s blood­i­est World War II bat­tle in worse con­di­tions from Dec. 16 un­til Jan. 25.

Neigh­bor­hood kids frol­icked to their heart’s con­tent, and I re­stocked my bird feed­ers daily, but we all ex­pe­ri­enced tem­po­rary dis­com­fort know­ing our heated homes awaited. Our heated homes, like one cup of steam­ing cof­fee, so eas­ily taken for granted. Taken for granted... The fi­nal rea­son for my con­tem­pla­tions this week hinged on a kindly mem­ber of our First United Methodist Church, Bill Mor­ris. Bill asked me to look over the mem­oirs he’s writ­ten at his chil­dren’s request.

His notes fre­quently stop me in my tracks.

This unas­sum­ing and gen­tle man, you see, landed on Omaha Beach. He en­dured Nazi V1 “buzz bombs,” was on the north­ern flank of “the Bulge” and, later, the bridge at Rema­gen. His unit lib­er­ated the Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp, and, af­ter Ger­many’s ca­pit­u­la­tion, trained for the in­va­sion of Ja­pan on Ok­i­nawa.

Bill and his wife, Nancy, drive cau­tiously these days. Some who rushed to the gro­cery store last week may have zoomed past the older cou­ple, and taken them for granted.

May Amer­ica’s sol­diers, and the free­doms they sac­ri­ficed to pre­serve, never be taken for granted.

Nat Har­well is a long­time res­i­dent of Newton County. His col­umns ap­pear reg­u­larly on Sun­days.

Nat Har­well


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