Guest column: Thanks to Dad, and all WWII veterans
This is too late for a Veteran's Day tribute but, in celebration of my father's 84th birthday, I'd like to express my appreciation for his life, especially his experiences in World War II.
Danville resident Robert Crooker served in the U.S. Army 97th Infantry Division, 303rd Inf. Regt., from 1942-46. The soldiers who still remain from WWII are leaving us rapidly, and I fear that their legacy is being forgotten just as quickly. With our minds on the Iraq/Iran conflicts, we seldom reflect on the previous wars, particularly the decades of freedom and peace that the triumphs of WWII provided for America and Europe and the entire planet.
I had the pleasure of accompanying my dad in 2000 to the numerous festive celebrations honoring U.S. veterans in the Czech Republic. My father's division, among others, was responsible for the liberation of historic Pilsen and several border towns in the Czech Republic, near the end of WWII. He participated in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Flossenberg, enabling hundreds of prisoners to escape torture and death.
My dad played a small but significant role in the European battleground, and the Czech citizens remember him with sincere gratefulness. His name appears on a plaque in the town square of Cheb, and he was among the veterans decorated by the Lord Mayor for their efforts in the war, in this relatively small community.
In Pilsen, a thrilling ride in a restored 1940s U.S. Army jeep in the main street parade was my father's favorite moment of the trip, where 250,000 people lined the street, cheering for a mere handful of American WWII vets, whose divisions were directly involved in liberating the country from the Germans. Many citizens desired autographs, hugs and handshakes.
Celebrations were frequent in town after town, where local dignitaries laid out the red carpet for my dad and his Army buddies, and speeches were made with tears and tributes in remembrance of these men. In 2005, my father was honored again when he was asked to present the flowered wreaths at the monuments in Cheb and Pilsen, which read "Thank You America." The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, and the Minister of Defense presented my father and other veterans with medals for their efforts in the liberation of Czechoslovakia. Now in their 80s, these WWII veterans no longer look like heroes, yet in the eyes of Czech citizens they were noble and great.
The official dedication of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., in May 2004 was another opportunity for remembrance and recognition that my father enjoyed, accompanied by his granddaughter Molly and me. The enormous attendance at that event spoke volumes about the devotion these men have sustained for their country, their freedom and their values.
The respect that is due to all veterans is under-expressed in our society, but I am grateful for their sacrifices and for the moral testimonies they provide. Thank you for allowing me to share a little about my father. While he is still living, and in excellent health, he deserves this 15 minutes of fame.
Brad Crooker is a Danville resident.