Sunday, May 24, 2020

An American Hero

Post #2 of Memorial Day Weekend 2020

Losing a loved one while they are in the military on active duty can be heartbreaking. And it was heartbreaking for the thousands of civilians who lost loved ones in the Civil War. One of the ways to find comfort is to lay flowers or flags on the graves of those who gave their life in service to this country. The citizens of Waterloo, NY in 1866 are generally credited for the beginning of a tradition that eventually led to Memorial Day.  Wanting to honor their Civil War dead, they decorated those graves with flowers, flags, and offered a moment of silence.  Originally known as “Decoration Day,” the name was changed to Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.  Nowadays, Memorial Day doesn’t just honor those who gave their lives in the Civil War, but in all the wars that the United States has been involved in.

So much has been written about World War II, but I didn’t know very many personal stories.  I knew my Grandpa had been in the war, but honestly, I don’t know his story.  He passed away when I was 15 and I never really got to ask him about it. My husband’s grandfather was in the Navy in the Pacific. I always knew my Uncle Harold had been in the war, but I don’t remember him really telling me tales about his experiences. I remember when I visited him in 1991 with my husband, we brought an old WW II map we found in the basement of the Bad Hersfeld police station and he appreciated it.  He told us some of the places he went to, but he didn’t tell me any real stories.  If he did, it’s my fault I don’t remember them.  I do remember he was proud of my service in my military.  It was unspoken.  It was his knowing smile, his questions, and his curiosity about what Germany was like that communicated his approval to me. (I was stationed in Germany from 1986-88 and 1989-1992, 40 years after he left.)

My Uncle Harold was drafted into the Army National Guard in 1942 and in February 1944 he was sent to Britain. He landed on Omaha Beach on 10 June 1944. He was an Engineer (30th Infantry Division, 105thCombat Engineers) and an expert on the Browning 50 Cal machine gun. His troop was involved in the Battle of Bulge and his unit was one of the first ones to enter Holland and Belgium. He liberated two or three concentration camps to include Buchenwald. My husband and I visited Buchenwald in 1990, 45 years after he liberated it! He was 22 years old in World War II. Shortly after arriving on Omaha Beach, he broke down, but pushed past his fear.  Once he was battle hardened he said, “As time goes on, you get to be a zombie. You’ve had no sleep, you’re tired, and things don’t worry you as much as they did at the start.” 
Harold Williams

For his heroic actions, Uncle Harold was awarded the Legion of Honor from the French Government at the age of 91 in 2013. I wish I had been there to see that. He passed away in July 2018. On Memorial Day this year, I’m going to place my flag on my house and honor him with a moment of silence before I go to work, because even now that I’m no longer in the military, his courage and bravery still inspire me. 


Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 dispatcher with LAPD.  She served in the US Army from 1986-1997. Her Uncle Harold served from 1942-1945. She is a Children’s book author published with 4RV Publishing.  Her book, “First Flag of New Hampshire” is available in Kindle and as a paperback from 4RV Publishing.  

Check out the video for the book here:


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