Monday, December 5, 2011
"Knocking on the Door of History"
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to cross paths with a hero, allow me to fill you in on the angels with whom I am blessed to spend the next week and a half. We arrived on the island of Oahu, Hawaii earlier this evening, but this story begins last night on the College of the Ozarks campus.
I took a deep breath just before knocking on Clarence Pfundheller’s motel door at the Good Center at C of O. I knew little about him and hadn’t had the chance to even talk with him prior to our dinner date with fellow trip participant Bryan Cizek and his wife Elizabeth. With little knowledge and the predetermined vow not to talk about the war during dinner, I didn’t know what to say. I was anxious and speechless, but I knocked anyway. Only a few short seconds later, I was looking at a hero. Mr. Pfundheller served nearly seven years in the United States Navy. He was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Fiji Island, Okinawa and Philippines, but focuses primarily on Pearl Harbor. I immediately knew this was going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
As dinner kicked off, I caught myself fighting back tears several times. Every time I looked into his deep, experienced eyes, I couldn’t help but see the tough man who enlisted into the United States Navy more than 70 years ago. What was he like? What did those eyes see? What did those hands do? How many friends had he lost? I saw him laughing with his friends in Pearl Harbor before America put a stop to the maddening tyranny spreading like wildfire across the world. I saw him enjoying his young life. I finally just saw him. I saw the genuine character of a humble hero. I saw the bravery in his soul. I saw what makes the Greatest Generation so great.
In fact, I was so busy seeing the brave WWII hero sitting beside me that I failed to notice the hero of today dedicating his time to a typical student like me. Don’t you see? Here is a rare, beautiful soul and he doesn’t see the prestige his history holds.
After a wonderful dinner, I was left thinking and praying for him. I thanked God for blessing this world with people like Clarence Pfundheller; people willing to drop everything to support and protect this country; people who value life so much, that they are willing to sacrifice themselves to see others live happily in freedom, which brings me to today.
Dark and early this morning, we all rolled out of bed – some running on only one hour of sleep – to revisit history through five new pairs of eyes. We boarded planes heading for Denver, followed by a flight to Honolulu. The long day spent travelling gave each student the perfect opportunity to get to know our five brave WWII veterans: Mr. Clarence Pfundheller, Mr. George Beden, Dr. Bruce Heilman, Mr. Parke Piper, and Mr. Guy Piper.
After talking with each veteran, some more extensive than others, I developed a sense of their very different personalities. But they still had one thing in common – their humble bravery as the Greatest Generation. I can finally see them for who they really are and what they really did for our country. Perhaps that brings me one step closer to seeing them as God sees us.