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Well, the evening was wonderful. What an honor to stand among 101st Airborne Division Veterans spanning 75 years and sing the national anthem. The gentleman in the picture is Mr. David Wisnia. He was born in Poland. During WWII his entire family was killed and he, an able-bodied 18-year-old boy, was put into the concentration camp, Auschwitz. Some time later, the Germans were moving the prisoners to Dachau. During the trip Mr. Wisnia miraculously escaped. He had not gone far when he ran into a column of men from the 101st Airborne Division. Mr. Wisnia spoke six languages. He joined the 101st that day and never left them throughout the rest of the war. “I had no family,” he told me tonight. “They became my family.”
If you do nothing else today read my story and watch the video. It will be the best 11 minutes you give away this year. I promise. Three years ago I was the guest speaker at the 101 Association reunion and that was the first time Vinny told his amazing story. It has since been recorded, and I have attached it below. Watch it. You won’t believe the ending.
Now, to get you there…
It is truly an honor to be the guest speaker, again, at tonights 101st Airborne Division Association Snowbird dinner. There are hundreds of veterans here who have served in our great division since WWII. Here are a few of the remarkable American’s present. I am pictured with Pat Macri and his wife in the first picture. Pat jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the 101st. He jumped with two carrier pigeons under his arms. One pigeon had a message attached to its leg that said, “The jump was a success.” The other pigeon’s message said, “The jump was a failure.”
When Pat landed on the LZ the “success” pigeon was dead. It had been killed on impact. He removed the message from its leg and replace the failure message on the other pigeons leg, and then he set it free to fly back to England, reporting the mission a success. I literally had tears in my eyes as this dear man told me how he prayed that the Lord would help him endure.
In the other photo I am standing between Richard Pack and Tom Sewell. Richard went to Baylor H.S. in Chattanooga, and dated a girl from Ranger, GA – my hometown. He first commanded an infantry company in Vietnam and then commanded Charlie Company, 101st Aviation Group. Charlie Company (Black Widows) is now a company in my brigade. Tom was Richard’s operations officer. Richard would go on to serve as the 1st Ranger Battalion Operations Officer and was the Army Aviation planner, whiles serving as the Ranger OPSO, for Operation Eagle Claw, the attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran.
“Did you take cigars from the store? Now, don’t you tell a story,” my mother would say, which is confusing now, but I understood perfectly back then.
My mother would never have called me a liar. A word like that would have felt like Caster Oil in her mouth – slimy. It would have choked her. To accuse anyone of such a thing would have been much too harsh, even if it were true. Labeling someone a storyteller was much gentler, even for a dreadful sin such as stealing Swisher Sweets from our own store.
To be called a storyteller was actually a compliment to me. I knew so many them at that time, men I admired. Their stories, mixed with truth, kept my mind actively visualizing things that could not have possibly been true, but should have been. Oh how I wanted them to be true.
A story is just an ordinary deviation from external reality. “There never was a story worth telling that didn’t deserve a little exaggeration,” my grandfather would say. He was right of course because he was a back porch entertainer, and a good one at that, but he didn’t get paid, didn’t profit from it, and that made all the difference in the world.
“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape.” (Steinbeck, East of Eden).
I thought long and hard about her question, as she hovered over me, her finger in my face. Certainly, I had taken the cigars, and I knew it was wrong even for a thirteen-year-old boy trying to find his moral compass, but my mother was far too delicate to disappoint, to hurt. If I lied it would wound her, and there was no gain in that for me, so I told a story – for her sake.
“No, I didn’t take them,” I lied by telling a story.