“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
– From an Irish headstone
Have you noticed it is frequently the people who say the least about themselves who have the most incredible stories to share?
On this Memorial Day holiday I wanted to share one such example of a heroic, humble servant who never needed to tell you how great he was.
I only met Bill Skinner one time.
Typical of kids who grew up during The Great Depression, Bill was humble, hardworking, and selfless. Those values guided the way he spoke, acted, served and lived his life.
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. The following morning, Bill enlisted in the US Army. He served until the war ended in 1945. He fought in some of the most famous, most significant, and most costly battles during the war. He returned home a military hero.
And he never once spoke about it.
Bill considered himself lucky. Unlike more than 400,000 of his fellow service members, Bill lived. He came home.
Bill never wore nor spoke of his medals. He never discussed his service or bragged about his adventures. He never viewed himself as worthy of praise and was quick to point out that his brothers he left behind in North Africa and Europe were the real heroes.
About 10 years ago, I visited Calvary Cemetery with a friend of mine from college. It’s a huge cemetery where a friend of ours is buried.
It was the middle of the summer, it was terribly hot, and we got lost. The place was desolate. Countless headstones covered the grounds, but almost no visitors. On this oppressively warm July day, we noticed in the distance one man. He appeared older and was bent over. A few flags were by his side, grass clippers were nearby, and he was scrubbing a gravestone.
The man was Bill Skinner.
Every month since returning home from Europe six decades earlier, Bill would come to this cemetery, put new flags near the headstones of his fallen brothers, clip the grass by hand around those stones, and scrub any dirt or bird droppings off of it. He’d wipe his sweat, occasionally his tears, and then move on to the next stone, the next friend, the next fallen brother, the next hero.
Just like his activities during the war, Bill did this quietly. He told no one. Had it not been for this chance encounter, he would have died with no one knowing that he spent not only four years serving our country, but the following six decades serving those that he considered the true heroes.
My friends, today, many of us will enjoy a day off work. We might sleep in, take walks in nature, watch shows on television, or get lost in a great book. Many will enjoy family or friends while social distancing. And many remain unaware why this day has been set apart, made special.
So on this Memorial Day, take pause and remember why we really have this day off of work. Give thanks for our incredible opportunities present in our lives today. And remember the ultimate sacrifice that provided these amazing freedoms.
In a world where we too frequently celebrate people based on their physical beauty, social following or professional successes, Bill Skinner reminds us what a true hero looks and acts like. [Click to tweet.]
Today, make sure that the humility, sacrifice, life and death of these heroes continues to shine brightly through those of us lucky enough to live on.
This is your day. Live Inspired.