By Andrea Brett
Recently, I received a manila envelope in the mail. In it was a handwritten letter from a World War II veteran named Whayland H. Greene. He is 95 years old. Included with the letter were three stories, each encased in a plastic binder sleeve. The stories were titled, “Be a Good Soldier, Son,” “My Most Dangerous Patrol,” and “I Met a True Hero.” In the letter, Mr. Greene thanked me for my poem, “I Am a Veteran” and he wrote these words:
“I am sending you a couple of things I wrote years ago. You may have time to read them. If so, do what you want to do with them because when I pass on, they will more than likely go to the trash dump. They may help a few people understand veterans a little better.”
The part about the trash dump gave me a sinking feeling. It made me so sad to think that Whayland’s stories might be trashed and forgotten. I have long been concerned about veterans who leave this earth with untold stories. This is a tragedy to me. As a result, I decided to share Whayland’s stories on my website iamaveteran.net. This is a way to honor him and others like him who have stories that need to be told but may not get the chance. And Whayland is right, his stories did help me understand veterans a little better. Thank you, Whayland.
As Memorial Day approaches I thought this blog post would be a good time to share a portion of Whayland’s words with the Brett Family friends and fans. These are his words from the first and last paragraphs of the story, “Be a Good Soldier, Son.” The rest of this heart wrenching account can be found at iamaveteran.net.
“In 1943, at the age of 18, I entered the army. My Mother always gave me good advice. In this case she said “Son, since you have to go in the army, be a good soldier.” I’m sure thousands of Mothers told their sons the same thing. Like thousands of other young men, I was just an ordinary soldier. I did nothing great and most of the other infantry soldiers were just like me. I did serve my country to the best of my ability.
Now I want to tell you why I thought my young friends and I were good soldiers even though we were scared half to death most of the time. It was not because we did anything great or even out of the ordinary for that particular time. We were not brave, we did not receive any big medals for bravery and none of us ever became high-ranking officers. Here are some of the things we did do. When were were 18 years old and we were called into the army and although most of us did not volunteer when we were called, we did not try to get deferments or try to dodge the draft. We never missed a day of training, were never late for roll call and never had a day of bad time against our records. I missed only eight days of combat on Leyte and that was when I was in the hospital with jungle rot on my feet. I never missed a day of combat on Luzon. We went to every patrol we were told to go on and went as far as we were told to go. We advanced in the face of the enemy, went up every hill we were sent to, even when we were scared to death. We never withdrew from any position that we were told to hold until were were told to do so.
It is not always the man who does something outstanding on a certain day that makes him a good soldier. Sometimes it is the man who takes and carries out orders and faces up to challenges he has every day that makes a good soldier I feel like lots my young friends and I did just that. I don’t think I ever told my Mother I was a good soldier but I think she understood that I was. Not because I brought home any big medals, because I did not, and not because I did anything outstanding, because I did not. But because I came home alive and brought an honorable discharge with me.”
Yes, Whayland, you were a good soldier! You still are! And though you may think you did not do anything outstanding, I beg to differ. What you and your buddies and millions of others have done before and since is truly remarkable, and my family is so grateful for it.
Today, on Memorial Day 2020, as we remember our fallen heroes, we’d like to thank all those who have honorably served in our nation’s military, and pay special tribute to those who will never be able to share their stories because they never returned home. God Bless them, and God Bless America!
P.S. To read the complete story, “Be a Good Soldier, Son” and Whayland’s other two stories, click here.