The Veterans Administration reports that our World War II veterans are dying at a rate of approximately 492 each day. This means there are only 855,070 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II. At that rate, all of them will be gone in less than five years. These men and women were the foundation of Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.”
I’d like to introduce you to one of these veterans, my father John A. DeVault Jr., who was almost 97 years old when he passed away on Sept. 22, 2016. Dad was born in Knoxville, Tenn., and was a sergeant in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.
One of Dad’s favorite stories involves his first meeting with Patton on a Sunday morning in November 1945. Patton happened to be passing through the small town where Dad was stationed and decided to attend the church service. “There were only about 20 of us in the service that day and General Patton introduced himself to each of us after the service. He was extremely friendly. I was shocked at how nice he was since he had always been bigger than life in my mind. We were all surprised at how he seemed to just want to hang out for a while with us grunts.
“The next Sunday Patton was in the service again only this time there was a beautiful new podium in the pulpit made by a local Italian carpenter and paid for by General Patton, we later learned. Just two or three days after that we heard that General Patton had been killed in a jeep accident in Germany. I am so glad I got to meet him.”
My Dad and Lt. Bill Aenchbacher, a resident of the memory care community Autumn Leaves, were honored in a beautiful ceremony in August, hosted by Dindy Broadhead from Homestead Hospice, and Deb Ewen of Autumn Leaves.
The highlight of the event included a very stirring address by two-star Maj. Gen. Maria L. Britt. Britt, who is retired, and is president of the Georgia Chapter of Women in Defense. The sincere pride and admiration Britt expressed in paying tribute to Aenchbacher and my father was deeply moving. Many of us shed tears of pride to be Americans and to have had the opportunity to honor these two American heroes.
At the close of the event, Bill and Dad were given beautiful handmade veteran Army quilts. Each quilt is personalized and awarded on special occasions. Bill and Dad were overwhelmed. A special thanks to the Sewing Seeds quilting team at Woodstock First Baptist Church and particularly to Sandy Meyers for their labor of love and presentation.
Dad outlived nearly all of his close friends. Fortunately he and I grew closer in the last several months then we had ever been. He did not win a pile of medals or save or take any lives while in the European Front, but in my heart he will always be a hero. I watched his example as he visited my mother daily for five years as Alzheimer’s disease finally took her life four years ago. I cherish every moment and each memory I have with him. I just hope and pray my sons will feel the same about me when my time comes.
By Walt DeVault