From My Post Road Window / Nicholas Troilo
On a cold, winter's day in a small Pennsylvania town, a 2-mile procession of cars weaved its way to a small church. When the procession arrived, the church lot was already crowded with cars.
At the entrance to the church six men stood at attention. Two bore flags. Four bore rifles. They were surrounded by perhaps, (I didn't count) 20 other men and one woman all dressed in the uniform of the Catholic War Veterans of America.
They were old; their faces were wrinkled; their eyes were worn; their legs tired. They carried the weight of a world war; a war in Korea; a war in Vietnam. They carried the weight of a fellow veteran felled not by the hand of an enemy at war but by the hand of age and a sudden illness.
But they also carried the pride of camaraderie. They were comrades, comrades all, not only in war but in life in a small Pennsylvania town. They were humbly proud when they stood at attention and when they did, their age faded. When they walked and saluted, their valor, their honor, their prestige, their courage, their dedication drew attention. Those traits became the more obvious. They were neither wrinkled nor worn nor tired.
These Catholic War Veterans, along with more than 200 other small-town, ordinary men and women like me came to honor another rather ordinary man, my brother-in-law George.
Now I hadn't known my brother-in-law George for a very long time. He had married my sister only two years ago. George had been a widower for some 10 years. When they married, my sister had been widowed for just two.
But they had known each other as couples for years and sometime after my sister's husband died, George suggested they have dinner together. At first my sister refused, then agreed with terms. "Only if we go dutch," she had told him. But when the dinner bill came, George insisted, as men often do, and their courtship began.
Just before his 70th birthday and my sister's 68th he proposed marriage. My sister accepted but again with terms. "We're going to live in my house. You can keep either your car or your fishing and hunting gear in the garage. Your choice."
Then the most extraordinary thing happened. This ordinary man made my sister happy. He made her bubbly happy. They went on a honeymoon cruise. He took her dancing. He made her laugh at herself and he made her laugh with him at almost any curve thrown their way.
In a short time, George was family. Then he became ill. We followed his progress. First a section of a lung removed. "Remarkable fast recovery" was the first report. "We're taking a cruise to Alaska in late spring and then a cross country trip in the summer."
Then in autumn the cancer appeared in the other lung and by winter the diagnosis was that the cancer had spread. In December, George was hospitalized. The doctors tried their best. In the evening of the last day of the year, George died.
At his funeral, I cried. I watched an honor guard salute and taps played and rifles fired. I heard priests praise George's state of grace. I watched priests and veterans and friends and family from both sides stream by. And lots of ordinary, small-town folks.
George was just an ordinary guy. He was joyful, peaceful, patient and kind. Ordinary. Just ordinary. But I long to emulate George. I long to be as ordinary as George. Ret. Lt. Col George Kohutka, U.S. Army, (dec.)