The Bombardier

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Albert Schweitzer, M.D., Ph.D.

The explosive sound of sharp shrapnel piercing the thick metal signifies that his plane has been hit – struck multiple times. Damage is substantial. A certain crash is impending. As a bombardier, he automatically performs the first task that he was taught in training: immediately release all bombs if the plane is going down. He watches as two members of the team jump out of the aircraft that is rapidly losing altitude. He needs to get out of the plane now. With time critical for his survival, he delays his departure long enough to check for any other survivors. Everyone remaining is lost. He quickly puts on his parachute. Now behind enemy lines, Second Lieutenant Alfred “Al” John Hackbarth, bombardier (and my dad), is the last to jump out of the plane to an uncertain future below.

Landing in an open field, Al catches sight of a man hurriedly coming toward him – carrying a pitchfork. He is probably a local farmer who has been negatively impacted by the bombing raids performed daily in the Allied effort to defeat Germany. No doubt about what the farmer is planning to do. He is going to plunge the makeshift weapon right into the bombardier’s body.

Separating himself from the parachute strings, Al now has very little time to prepare for the inevitable confrontation. Having just survived a critically disabled aircraft, he now faces a second encounter with death. He quickly strategizes, “I will try to dodge his thrust and then fight him hand-to-hand.”

Whatever the outcome, it will be over shortly. As the farmer raises the pitchfork, a German officer, who arrived on the scene moments earlier, shouts out orders while pointing his gun toward the farmer and the bombardier. The farmer immediately drops the pitchfork. Al has escaped death twice in a short period of time – airborne and now on a small battlefield.

My dad becomes a United States Prisoner of War (POW) of World War II, where he remains for 10 months until his freedom, shortly before the end of that conflict. He risked his life in performance of duty, surviving one fateful day in the summer of 1944.

Today, when I see Veterans and current military personnel, I cannot help but think of my dad and all the Veterans who have served our country.   They risked their lives for our freedom. One day long ago, the majority of the servicemen on that plane died while performing their duty. The survivors, like my dad, were affected for the rest of their lives.

When I get up each day, I have plenty of reasons to be grateful. My list is long. One special reason for thankfulness is our military’s effort, what they do each day for our country. How about our Veterans? Many of them are mentally and physically scarred. I love these people. They deserve our respect and care. They are special. Their sacrifices and mere existence provides a reason to get up each day and be thankful. Do you agree?

If your life resembles mine, you have experienced the human journey, filled with many difficulties and challenges. Undesirable stuff happens – thus, discouragement on varying levels is inevitable. When I find myself on a path with head hung down, I quickly ‘regroup’ by thinking about some of the items on my Gratitude List. Do you have such a list?

Near the top of my list is thankfulness for all the current service personnel and their families who patiently await their return. Armed Forces families also serve our nation. I know that it made a huge difference to Dad to know that Mom was waiting in the safety of our home for his return. My three sisters and I were born after he returned from the war. Our family has many reasons to be grateful, including our own existence.

I have a special place in my heart for the Veterans who helped our country win WW II many years ago. They saved much more than our country. Combined with all the Allies, they saved the world.  My dad was part of that team. I am proud of this fact. He was a hero in my mind. How can I not be thankful?! How can I not exhibit a heart of gratitude?

How did you start today? What is on your gratitude list? Do you have one?

Write it down. Etch it in stone. Put it in your heart. Gratitude.

I am grateful today for the military and their family.

I am indebted today for all of our Veterans.

I am fortunate to live in the United States of America.

Today, I am grateful.