His name was Luther Peters. His friends called him Pete. I never met him, but I know his widow, a lovely woman named Julia, and she told me this story about Pete. She told it to me today. Memorial Day.
Pete was in the U.S. Army, and the Army was in France fighting World War II. And so Pete was in France, fighting the Germans. Southern France, it was. Could have been Operation Dragoon, but Julia isn't sure. Pete died in 1983, and today Julia is 96. Her being unsure doesn't bother me in the least.
In 1941 Julia and Pete had been married for a few years. Pete was a regimented, organized man. He married early. Kids were coming. A job. A life. He was starting so early, he hadn't met most of Julia's family yet. She had a brother he didn't know, for example, and someday he planned to meet that man and everyone else in Julia's family.
But Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and Pete's destiny changed. That's the story of thousands of Americans in the early 1940s, what we call "The Greatest Generation" because they've earned that designation. You on Twitter, calling out athletes. You think you're tough? Me behind my computer, calling out this coach or that one. I think I'm brave?
We're not. The men and women of the greatest generation? They were tough and they were brave. They were heroes in a way that nobody will ever have to apologize for using such an enormous word. Heroes. That was Pete Peters. A hero.
And so there he was in southern France in 1944, possibly at Operation Dragoon although Julia isn't sure, and he was on the ground. Hell had broken loose, and the reaper was running amok. Men were dying. The U.S. Air Force was coming to the Army's aid, but it needed to know which of those men on the ground were Americans -- and which weren't.
An airman named David W. Minton, a radar engineer for the U.S. Air Force (then known as the U.S. Army Air Forces), got himself a line of communication with the Army platoon on the ground. He found himself talking to a soldier who identified himself as 1st Lt. Peters.
Peters? David Minton knew that name. He was in the middle of a war, hell having already broken out on the field below, but he wanted to know more.
"Your whole name, 1st Lt. Peters?"
Luther Albert Peters.
David Minton knew that name.
"Your hometown, 1st Lt. Peters?"
"Give me your platoon's location," David W. Minton said to Luther Albert Peters of Hamilton, Ohio, "and say hello to your brother-in-law. Julia's my sister."
That's the story Julia Peters told me on Monday. Memorial Day. She was dabbing at her eyes as she told it, then laughing at herself for crying all these years later. Her husband made it out of France alive. So did her brother. They met for real about a year later, on American soil, where the greatest generation got back to the business of living a life I desperately hope not to take for granted.