“These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation that has a long history of patriotism and honor – and a nation who has fought many battles to keep our country free” Michael Castle
My godfather and favorite uncle, Edmond Kociencki, was a veteran of World War II. As was common then, he signed up for the Army with several of his friends, and they all served together. Infantrymen and then members of a mounted cavalry unit, Uncle Eddie and his friends, Butch and Emil first fought in France and later were in the Battle of the Bulge. That “Great Generation” did what they set out to do, what they felt they had to do. Many died in that fight to stand up to an oppressor and end the Nazi conquest, and now day by day they leave us. We are the poorer for it.
While Uncle Eddie was away, he had all his military pay sent to his fiancée. She used the money to buy the house they planned, but in her own name. Then, she married someone else! When he returned he “gutted it out” and moved on. My mother, his sister, introduced him to a friend and, like so many veterans, he married and raised a family, a great one.
Working as a police officer and motorcycle cop, he still rode to the rescue of others, now on his own “iron horse.” I remember him dressed in his uniform: gleaming polished boots, jodhpur pants, leather belt and strap, crisp blue shirt, and badge. He seemed impossibly tall, lean, tough, and strong, as he adjusted the angle of his cap just so, and strode from the room. I remember looking up at him thinking he was almost as tall as a giant. Later, I learned he wasn’t that tall, but he remained a giant in my eyes in more ways than I can ever say.
Eddie and all his friends who came back from the War to end war, joined the VFW. It was a cornerstone and touch point for them all. Yet, while he told a story or a joke better than anyone else I have ever known, and loved to “swap stories,” I don’t remember him telling a single battle story.
Maybe he and his buddies did at the VFW, but I doubt it…unless it was a funny one. While it was at the core of who they were, the kernel of honor, integrity, and their service formed the foundation of their lives, it was a connection that was just there in their friendship and camaraderie. They were stoic about it, about what they saw, and who they lost.
But you could see it sometimes in their eyes. A look would pass between them when the flag went by, or when, even as they aged, they snapped to attention at a military funeral. It said more than any words of the unbreakable bond forged by their experience. They always went together to pay respect to any ‘brother’ whose kinship was created by this joint service.
No one can ever fill the boots Uncle Eddie left behind. For most of my childhood he seemed larger than life. In my adulthood, he and Aunt Irene showed me what family and friendship really meant. I will forever miss them, not only for the people they were, but also for all they taught me.
So today I want to recognize our remaining World War II veterans, and all who serve the cause of freedom, who stand between us and those who would do us harm. I thank them all for their service to our country.