Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Veteran

Today we honor the nation's veterans but this post is about one in particular: Walter Millar. Walter is my North Dakota cousin-once-removed, pictured here on the right, from a 2003 shot in our family's museum, talking to my brother, Rob.

A couple of months back, his daughter, Carol, sent out a special request:

"As a WWII marine vet, Dad is going on an honor flight to Washington DC. It sounds like they really treat them special. It's only a couple days in late September. They have asked for letters to be submitted to the organization by Sept. 15 to be given to him during the trip. E-mails are fine. It's up to you, but I know he'd love getting a few unexpected ones."

My mother, who is close with Walter and grew up with him, would write one, of course but as the family's unofficial 'writer', I took on the assignment as well. Even though I was never close with Walter, I always admired his quiet strength. Plus, when he smiled or laughed, his eyes twinkled and I'm a sucker for that.

But when I sat down to write the letter, I felt much more than I had anticipated. An excerpt:

"I don't know much about your time in the Marines but I do know that it has been a big part of who you are for as long as I've known you. I recently found out that you were the first Canadian to join the Marines - is that right? That really says a lot about you and the draw of the Marines.

I feel incredibly proud and honored to know that my family has been represented in service to America. I have traveled to many places around the world and no country even comes close to the life we have here. Thank you so much for everything you did to insure our freedom. Your brave and selfless efforts are deeply appreciated."

While I was in SoCal recently, helping Mom recuperate from heart surgery, she received a long letter from Walter. It was a juicy, handwritten four-pager full of joy, appreciation and moving details from the Honor Flight. Mom read it to me aloud while I made our lunch. (The Freedom Flight organizers had announced "Mail Call!" much to shock and delight of the veterans. Walter was not expecting anything but received 11 letters, including three from grade school students written on 'V-Mail' cards.)

One point, we both burst into tears and I had to put the knife down and grab us both some tissues. Here's the paragraph that got the waterworks going:

"We were in the Air and Space Museum, looking over the B-29 plane that dropped the bomb on Japan to end the war. There was a large number of people besides our vets group listening to a commentator give a talk on the place and it's part in the war.

Part way through his talk, out of the blue, he asked, 'Is Walter P. Millar is here? If so, please step forward.' I was astounded, and if he had not mentioned the 'P', I would have thought it was another Walter Millar.

I moved to the front of the crowd. When he saw me, he said, 'You were a member of the 3rd Marine Division, right?' (Insignia at left.)

I answered, 'Yes, sir.'

'You took part in the landing on Guam, right?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I thank you for your courage and service to your country.'

I did not know what to say. Finally, I said, 'Thank you, sir.' There was applauding from the crowd. There were not too many Marines in the group of vets and apparently, I was the only one from the 3rd Division."

How great is that? Through our warbly tears, Mom and I both felt gratitude that our cousin was being honored. True victory!

Walter's letter went on to describe his battle with red tape so he could, in fact, become the first Canadian to become a Marine. Though he never told his family much about it, Walter had been a bit of a celebrity. It was thanks to North Dakota's Senator Gerald Nye, a progressive Republican and - get this - anti-war activist, who finally made it possible for Walter to reach his destiny and become a Marine.

Walter still has the news clippings from Minneapolis papers covering his historical enlistment and best of all, that precious telegram from Sen. Nye giving him the green light. On my next visit to NoDak, Walter promised to show me everything.

Finally, hats off to the folks behind the Freedom Network. Seriously, they went above and beyond what was expected by the vets. As the vet groups were organized by state regions, Walter relayed this wonderful scenario:

"The so-called Freedom Flight people certainly had everything planned and scheduled to the last detail to make it a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

After we boarded four school buses who should come aboard but the mayor of Grand Forks, a busy doctor who took time to come greet us, thanks us for our service and wish us a safe and enjoyable trip to visit our War Memorial in Washington. (Mayor Michael Brown, an OB-GYN and veteran of the Air Force.)

After a police escort to the airport, we were greeted by two lines of Air Force personnel standing at attention as we passed through. Just as we entered the plane, there was Governor Hoeven of ND to greet us and shake our hands.

We were treated as VIPs the entire trip. It made you feel proud but humbled at the same time."

Semper Fi, Mac!


fyrchk said...

Tears to the eyes. Just wow. I don't even have the words to express what I'm feeling.

ClizBiz said...

Thanks for reading this, Tami. Much appreciated.

Laurianna said...

Awesome. Just awesome.

Heidi's heart said...

I am always awed, amazed, and deeply moved by stories of courage and valor during wartime. Even though I am pretty near a pacifist, I am so supportive of veteran rights. Not nearly enough is done for these brave men and women.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing Walter's amazing story! My mom send a link of this story to me this morning. Walter is my Uncle and he is a VERY special man. We were down to see him and Eileen in July to celebrate a belated 90th birthday. He is a true hero and I have alway admired his strength, kindess, humility and that twinkle in his eye.