A Very Special Veteran – [posted with Veteran’s permission]

VES recently had the privilege of assisting a very special veteran in in Texas. The remarkable Mr. Collier served in Oahu during the attack on Pearl Harbor, parachuted onto Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He is now 92 years old and lives in Shamrock, a small town in the Texas panhandle. When one of our physician recruiters, Daniel Johnson, found out that Mr. Collier would be physically unable to travel for his exam, and that the only local doctor in Shamrock was unable to perform the exam, Daniel made it his mission to ensure that this brave veteran received the care he so greatly deserves. Dr. Eric Lewandowski, one of our providers from Kemah, TX, traveled nearly 600 miles to complete Veteran Collier’s exam. It was a true team effort from several VES departments, the clinic in Shamrock, and Dr. Lewandowski. We were all extremely proud to be a part of the process. Mrs. Collier sent us a copy of an essay that Veteran Collier’s grandson Robert wrote about him and has kindly allowed us to pass it on to you. It is a truly inspiring testament to this man’s extraordinary service to our country.

What Being an American Means to Me: An American Hero
by: Robert Collier Crowell

Freedom, strength, independence, equal rights for all. These are words that most people associate with being an American. While these words also symbolize my views of America, to me the true meaning of America is embodied in an 80 year old man. He was brave, heroic, courageous, and strong in the face of danger and unbelievable fear.

Born to a poor farming family a few months before the end of World War I, he lived his whole life in the former Indian country of Oklahoma and Texas. Motherless from the age of two, with an elderly father who was unable to properly care for him, life was hard for this young boy. Circumstances at home were so unbearable that he felt he had no option but to run away at the age of 12 to make his own way in the world. He was bright enough to skip two grades in elementary school, but because of his family life and his need to support himself, he was unable to graduate from high school, although he later earned his GED and graduated from college.

He saw the military as an opportunity to make a good life for himself and to work for his country, and joined the Army in 1939, during the Great Depression. His basic training was in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and he was there the fateful day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. America, and this brave man, entered World War II.

He became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, the home of the Screaming Eagles. Enlisting in the Army as a private, his courage, leadership, and intelligence earned him a battlefield commission and he was promoted to lieutenant. When a major battle took place in the European theater, he was there, fulfilling the role of valiant soldier. He parachuted out of the second plane to fly over Normandy on D-Day, the day that turned the tide in the battle against Hitler and the Nazi regime. He jumped into Holland in Operation Market Garden. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, Germany’s last chance effort to defeat the Allies; only five members of his 38 soldier platoon survived. During the Battle of the Bulge, one of his soldiers didn’t have a helmet, and this great man gave up his helmet so all of his men would be protected. He was awarded the Bronze Star for this selfless act of courage.

He was wounded twice and was awarded the Purple Heart, then he returned to combat as soon as he was deemed fit to fight again. He witnessed the death of many of his friends and fellow soldiers, some shot from the sky, others killed during ground combat. It is impossible for me to imagine how bloody and tragic this must have been for everyone who was affected by the war, but especially for the soldiers fighting against Hitler’s evil reign. The courageous acts of this man and others like him stopped the fighting, ended the threat of tyranny, and brought peace to a Europe torn by war and hate.

After the war he raised a family and eventually retired from his job as a civilian employee working for the United States Air Force. He worked hard all of his life to ensure that his children’s lives were better than the one he had known. By the life he led, he instilled a sense of justice, pride, and loyalty in his children, then sent them out into the world.

How does this man’s story symbolize America to me? His actions helped keep Americans free. The democracy we live in gives us the freedom to live where we want, to do the work that interests us, and to have friends of different ethnic backgrounds and religions. This great man has taught me to distinguish right from wrong, and to stand up and fight for what I believe in. I have learned to be strong when faced with adversity and loss. I have learned to appreciate the sacrifices made by others in defense of America, and recognize that I may be called upon to make these same sacrifices.

He recently remarked that he has been retired for twenty years, and wondered if he should have done more, contributed more, during these past twenty years. When I look at his life, I believe that he has contributed more to America than many people ever have or ever will. He epitomizes what America means – the possibility of starting life as a poor farm boy with no future, becoming a decorated war veteran, a college graduate, and a father with a comfortable life and a loving family.

Who is this man? He is a hero, a man others should admire and strive to emulate. He is a man of courage, conviction, and strength. He is a hero to me. He is my grandfather.

Robert Collier Crowell, 1999