My uncle Leo was a tall, bald, quiet man with horn rimmed glasses. His easy smile and gentle nature didn’t seem to go with his chiseled face and strict posture.
As a little kid, I knew he was a World War II veteran. As a bigger kid, after he died, I found out he was a POW, was on the Bataan Death March, lived on water and rice and endured what was, and often still is, unspoken.
I wish I could’ve heard it all from him.
As an even bigger kid, I did a studies abroad project on WWII in France, visiting the beaches of Normandy.
The scars of the D-Day invasion mark the brick and stone buildings in and around Caen, pit the beaches. The rows and rows of white crosses and stars of David overwhelm the senses. It’s not like on T.V.
The Americans landed on Omaha Beach, where the memorials and museum pay tribute to our fallen soldiers there. U.S. troops also landed on Utah Beach, where the resistance was small by comparison. Allied forces landed on Gold, Sword and Juno beaches.
As I absorbed the landscape of Omaha Beach — a cold, drizzly day not unlike the day Operation Overlord went full thrust some fifty years before — I overheard a British man trying to explain to his wife where he had landed that fateful day.
I offered him a map I had brought with me that covered the entire area, not just Omaha Beach, and we figured out exactly where he invaded June 6, 1944. In return, I got a first-hand account of what took place, on those now liberated grounds, so many years ago.
Since then, I’ve never missed an opportunity to talk with a veteran. Doesn’t matter which year, which war, or for that matter, which military.
AT 90, he’s the only one living from his fellow enlisted men in his unit.
He told me if he was born in 1920, that means he’s 39 going on 40 this year. For him, and for a lot of these gentle old souls, I believe that’s true.
I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
UPDATE: After doing some searching online, I found an obituary for Leo Bogler in The Quan, a veterans’ publication that is now online.