Will you remember? Unlikely meeting makes friends for life

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
A veteran recalls the dark, winter nights in Germany, where hundreds of Axis soldiers were planted in trenches on the other side of the dark field, waiting to saw down any Ally who emerged on the other side.

The war was bloody and nobody could imagine relationships with the Germans ever being good again, he said. Still, history prevailed and many sons and daughters of America now have lasting friendships, children and even grandchildren with sons and daughters of our former dreaded enemy.

Nearly 60 years later, four veterans, all with German spouses, met in an unlikely place - Dover Air Force Base.

Through sheer coincidence, the four men, whose only connections to one another was the fact they each had a German-born wife and they were all at Dover waiting on a plane, felt drawn to each other, they said.

According to veteran John Gray, their meeting is the essence of Veteran's Day and is profound by it happening only a week prior to the holiday.

"Veteran's Day is a day to reflect on my experiences over the years and the people I met," said Mr. Gray, a retired Army master sergeant, who served from April 1947 to September '68. "Here we are - veterans, who all served in conflicts spanning from World War II to Vietnam, sitting here, laughing and sharing old stories as we wait for a (space-available flight) to Ramstein (AB, Germany)."

Their conversation was lighthearted and friendly. Mr. Gray was generous to share many other noticeable changes from his years of service to today. He explained during his tenure in the Army, a master sergeant was an E-7. Still, he said, some things never change and perked at the opportunity to share a Veteran's Day message with Team Dover.

"Any good Soldier makes a good citizen," he said. When reminded his audience was mainly Airmen, he said he didn't care and laughed as he found the notion funny.

Still laughing, he continued, "I served in the tail end of (World War II), in Korea in (1953) and in Vietnam in ('66) and again in ('67), I'll speak the way I speak."

"Soldiers don't go around whining, they learned discipline in the military," said Mr. Gray, whose lighthearted demeanor changed, letting those around him know he was ready to make a serious point. "In the 40 years since I retired, most of my good friends have all been prior military. American Soldiers, whether you want to call them Soldiers, Sailors, Marines or Airmen, it doesn't matter - they all make first-class Americans. Our country was built on their backs.

"Now, I sometimes joke around about young people," he continued. "But what our Soldiers are doing today is as remarkable as what we did in my day."

Mr. Gray stopped speaking momentarily as the television monitor in the 436th Aerial Port Squadron Air Passenger Terminal showed a news clip of a squad of Marines and Iraqi police officers patrolling a street in Iraq. After the clip was over, he returned his attention to the interview.

"I am proud of the (servicemembers) today," he said. "If I had any advice for the young troops, it would be to take charge - it's the key for a successful military, the key for your own career and for life after the military."

A passerby stopped and listed as Mr. Gray continued, "I made E-7 in six years, I didn't do it by lumping around and complaining. I scrubbed the ground when it needed scrubbing, I moved boxes when they needed moving - I followed orders and was always quick to make sure my Soldiers were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Even as a private, I knew I had to take charge."

When Mr. Gray was finished, the passerby stated he is currently serving in the Navy and thanked Mr. Gray for his service - a notion that embodies the entire theme of Veteran's Day.

Another gentleman, who was a former Airman and retired Sailor, sat down and began to talk about his story. Though he did not have many fond memories of Vietnam, Wayne McDannald said he wanted to tell Team Dover a story of the man who was his inspiration to serve and a truly great American - his cousin, a veteran of multiple wars.

"William (Coulson) was a patriot - the kind of man that every American should remember on Veteran's Day," said Mr. McDannald. "I'm not advocating deceit or trickery, but William had to pull strings when he entered the service. He did what he had to do to serve America during the Second World War.

"You see, William desperately wanted to serve America in combat," said Mr. McDannald as he went on to explain his cousin's quest to enlist. "He joined the Army, went through boot camp, jump school and had his 16th birthday on the ground in Germany - the whole time nobody knew he was only 15. Not many would do that for their country."

After the end of World War II, his cousin went on to serve in the Korean War, explained Mr. McDannald.

"In 1953, while I was still a teenager, I saw William on the cover of Life Magazine," said Mr. McDannald. "The cover photo was of President (Dwight) Eisenhower's inaugural parade. A few Soldiers appeared in the photo but the lead flagman was my cousin William. I knew right then, right there, I was going to serve, too."

A few years later, when Mr. McDannald was of age, he enlisted in the Air Force and went to Air Police School in 1956, he said. He and his cousin served a tour together in Vietnam. Mr. McDannald spent six years in the Air Force, then switched to the Navy, where he subsequently served and retired.

The four veterans gathered their belongings together in preparation for an upcoming space-A call.

"Make sure to print our story so your Dover Airmen can read and remember all us veterans this year," called out Mr. Gray with a wink and an emphasis on the word 'Airmen.' He waved goodbye and smiled.