Paul  Kengor

As Frank was moved out of his camp en route back home, he had a stop in Rheims, France. There, just as unexpectedly as encountering Patton, he sat in a room with fellow wounded GIs when he looked and suddenly saw Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stroll in. The soldiers jumped to their feet to salute the Supreme Allied Commander. “Sit down, boys,” the former Kansas farm-boy humbly said, “I should be standing for you.”

Frank eventually got home, first arriving in New York City and then hitchhiking all the way to East Pittsburgh. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks’ front door—no trumpets, no dramatic music, no parade. He hugged his mom and dad and sat down. He found his sweetheart, Anne. They’ve been happily married ever since.

As Frank recently shared his story in a classroom at Grove City College, my two teenage sons were riveted. After his talk, they met Frank, who eagerly shook their hands.

As he did, I was struck by this realization: If my teenage boys live to be Frank’s age, they’ll live to nearly 2090, roughly 150 years after World War II. They’ll be able to tell teenage boys that they shook the hand of a World War II veteran who met Generals Patton and Eisenhower.

That’s an amazing thought. It would be like any of us right now meeting an elderly person who met someone who stretched back 150 years to the Civil War, someone who stood in the presence of Ulysses S. Grant or perhaps even Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Gee, when you think about it that way, America doesn’t really seem all that old.

I shared that thought with a friend and colleague, Darren Morton. In turn, Darren told me about his late grandfather, born in 1909, who could remember parades as a little boy where Civil War vets were present. After one parade, one of those vets recalled that, when he was a boy, his grandfather took him to meet an elderly vet of the Revolutionary War. “So,” Darren told me, “I touched the hand of a man who touched the hand of a Civil War vet who in turn touched the hand of a Revolutionary War vet. We are not a very old country.”

Indeed, we’re not. Like Darren, like my sons, I encourage everyone to meet these vets before they pass on. Hear their stories. Someday you’ll be able to pass on your own story about meeting someone from that old war not-so-long ago.