Last week I learned the Battlefield Doc had passed away. I had been unable to reach him at the Veteran’s Home and my fear had come true. Fortunately, his longtime friend and Power of Attorney was able to be with Doc during his last breaths as he faded gently away from being worn out after 90 years, and being locked into the care home with no visitors allowed had been difficult and lonely for him.
Doc and I worked together for three years turning his notes into a readable memoir, capturing combat and stealth missions and frontline lifesaving experiences from this old “forgotten war.” Even though he was just a few years older than my dad, Doc became my adopted grandfather. Working on that memoir and going on book signings was the highlight of his last years. He felt proud that people—strangers even—wanted to read his stories and then were amazed by them, and he loved reading his Amazon reviews.
Doc got no honors, no medals for his bravery under fire and lifesaving skills thanks to the gruff sergeant at his exit interview who stated “medics don’t deserve any medals, you were doing your job.” Doc himself denied any heroics and had previously kept his military experiences hidden, but he was pleased to finally have his combat service recognized and honored by other than a letter from the president of South Korea. I was the one upset he had not been given any kind of award or medal. Even his records had been destroyed in a big fire at the local military records center.
Working with someone else to help them write their stories is a beautiful way to honor their life. Someone cares enough to ask them questions, someone wants to hear their stories and thinks they are important—important enough that they want to help write them down to save. While they may distrust that the experiences of “common people” are important, you are saving lived history and culture in a way that textbooks cannot do. Not only is that valuable history, it is a gift to the family so they will always know their ancestors and will know their roots and the experiences that helped form them and in turn helped form the next generation.
Taking the time to ask about an older person’s early life—priceless! For both of you.
Rest in well-deserved peace for a life lived well, Doc. We have your stories.