He was just one among millions. Still, they were an exceptional group - The Greatest Generation. There may never be another bunch quite like them.
My father was the son of Sicilian immigrants. His father ran a grocery business in Cliffside Park, N.J. until he died suddenly of a heart attack when my old-man was just 12. Being the oldest boy in a family with a widowed mother and 3 other siblings (he had an older and a younger sister as well as a younger brother), he was forced to become the primary bread winner. Of course, his entire family helped out but most of the responsibility fell on his shoulders. Then came the depression and after that, WWII. Life couldn't have been easy for any of them.
Still, they did their duty when it mattered most.
Both my father and his brother, Ralph, joined the service and went off to fight. My father, Joseph, became a combat engineer and served with Patton's legendary 3rd Army while his brother became a tanker with the equally lauded 2nd Armored Division. During the course of the War, both saw considerable amounts of combat - from Normandy to The Battle of the Bulge.
My father rarely spoke of his "hard core" war experiences. He would often tell me that he actually enjoyed being in the Army but not of the more difficult times he experienced in combat. Perhaps, he wanted to spare me the horrific details. But, he did speak of one: it was the day after Christmas, 1944. After a forced march through terrible winter conditions, he and his outfit reached the division that became known as The Battling Bastards of Bastogne - the 101st Airborne. Their defense of that rail-head town was the key to the allied victory at The Bulge, perhaps the most crucial battle of the war. Their stubborn resistance against the German Army became almost mythical when their commanding officer, General Anthony McAuliffe, responded to a request to surrender with this simple, eloquent response: NUTS!
The cold was brutal and their was no shelter for the troops. Sleeping in foxholes, my father remembered the awful, punishing cold. And, when they weren't fighting the terrible conditions, they were battling the Germans. But, they never stopped. They knew brave men were dying in Bastogne and that the 3rd Army was not only their only hope but also the key to an Allied victory. They also knew that if they didn't make it, the war could still be lost.
But, they did make it. And, they did win the battle and, subsequently, the war.
So, today, on this day after Christmas 2016, when you kickback, enjoying the gifts you given and received, drinking your wine and eating your left-overs in the warmth and comfort of your living rooms, remember those sacrifices made on our behalf on this very day 72 years ago.