Dare to Thank … George Rarey

Let me tell you about a fellow named George Rarey.  On June 21, 1944, George, an American soldier, woke up in France.  Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his wife on that very day:

Every night I crawl into my little sack and light up the last cigarette of the day and there in the dark with the wind whippin’ around the tent flaps I think of you – of your hair and eyes and pretty face – of your lovely young body – of your warmth and sweetness. It isn’t in the spirit of frustration but of fulfillment. I’ve known these things and knowing them and having them once, I have them forever. That wonderful look in your eyes when we’d meet after being apart for a few hours – or a few weeks – always the same – full of love. Ah, Betty Lou, you’re the perfect girl for me – I love ya’, Mama!

George Rarey and millions of other people like him have served in the military service for the United States of America.  This essay and others to follow are dedicated to George and all the people that have helped you and I live a life full of opportunity.  It is a celebration of individual contributions and sacrifices for me, for you, and for all of mankind.

Why is it so important to notice people who have helped to better mankind?  I believe that in order to free ourselves to become all we are capable of becoming – we must acknowledge those people, living and dead, who have enabled us to be in our present position.  Without that recognition, we may hold a belief that we, as individuals, are solely responsible for our station in life.  This belief, by its very nature, encourages a self-indulgent mind and discourages benevolent actions.  Gregg Easterbrook, in his book The Progress Paradox, examines it this way:

Hundreds of generations who came before us lived dire, short lives, in deprivation or hunger, in ignorance or under oppression or during war, and did so partly motivated by the dream that someday there would be men and women who lived long lives in liberty with plenty to eat and without fear of an approaching storm.  Suffering through privation, those who came before us accumulated the knowledge that makes our lives free; physically built much of what we rely on for our prosperity; and, most important, shaped the ideals of liberty.  For all the myriad problems of modern society, we now live in the world our forebears would have wished for us – in many ways, a better place than they dared imagine.  For us not to feel grateful is treacherous selfishness.

Here are some of the things I am grateful for in my life.  I’m thankful for the farmers that grow the food I eat, the builder who builds my home, the friend with whom I laugh, and the child who smiles back at me.  I’m thankful for the defenders of my country, the inventors of great inventions, the thinkers of big thoughts, the writers of great books, and the teachers who taught me about them.  I’m thankful I can flip a switch on my oven range and have a gas flame instantaneously combust, rather than having to wait for a wood fire to cook my dinner.  I’m thankful for the warriors who bled on the beaches, fell from the sky, and drowned in the water – so I could sit in a chair and read about my world in the morning newspaper.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the quality of my life is predominantly the result of the efforts of men and women who came before me – and remain in the shadows of my existence.  Some of them I have known, others I have never met.  To think otherwise would be the ultimate vanity on my part.  To feel, no matter how great my efforts, that I am the principle reason for my station in life would be a misconception of gigantic proportion.  I am here and my life has been sweetened by the efforts of countless people.

I cannot take credit for growing the food I eat, teaching myself to read and write, assembling the car I drive, inventing the computer I type on, sewing the clothes I wear, diagnosing my illnesses, filling my teeth, publishing the books I read, building the furniture I sit upon, manufacturing the eyeglasses I look through, or inventing the ball point pen I use to write my thoughts onto this sheet of paper that costs about two cents – that I could not create with a bucket of pulp at my disposal.  Unless I can take credit for all these things and more, how can I see myself as the principle cause for my happiness?  How can I walk through life, thumping my chest, thinking “It’s all about me – I owe no one?”

An old Indian saying says, “Think not forever of yourself oh Chiefs, nor your own generation.  Think of continuing generations of our families.  Think of our grandchildren and those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.”  There is always another generation to think of – people to whom you can help.  It is with this hope George Rarey went into combat in World War II.  Here is another excerpt from a letter George wrote to his wife upon receiving word his first child was born while he was serving in Europe.

Darling, Darling, Junie!  Junie, this happiness is nigh unbearable – Got back from a mission at 4:00 this afternoon & came up to the hut for a quick shave before chow and what did I see the deacon waving at me as I walked up the road to the shack?  A small yellow envelope – I thought it was a little early but I quit breathing completely until the wonderful news was unfolded – A son!  Darling, Junie!  How did you do it?  I’m so proud of you I’m beside myself – Oh you darling.  All of the boys in the squadron went wild.  Oh it’s wonderful!  I had saved my tobacco ration for the last two weeks & had obtained a box of good American cigars – Old Doc Finn trotted out two quarts of Black and White from his medicine chest and we all toasted the fine new son and his beautiful Mother.  Junie if this letter makes no sense forget it – I’m sort of delirious – Today everything is special – This iron hut looks like a castle – The low hanging overcast outside is the most beautiful kind of blue I’ve ever seen – I’m a father – I have a son!  My darling Wife has had a fine boy and I’m a king – Junie, Darling, I hope it wasn’t too bad – Oh, I’m so glad its over – Thank you, Junie – Thank you – Thank you.  Oh, Junie, I wish I could be there – Now I think maybe I could be some help – There are so many things to be done – What a ridiculous and worthless thing a war is in the light of such a wonderful event.  That there will be no war for Damon!  Junie, isn’t there anything I can do to help out…Oh my beautiful darling, I love you more and more and more – Gosh, I’m happy!  Sweet dreams my sweet mother, Love – Rarey.

Captain George Rarey flew a P-47 before he drove a car.  A few weeks after D-Day, at the age of 25, he was killed in combat over France.  George never got to hold his son.  When you hold your sons and daughters in your arms, at least for a moment, think of George Rarey and the ultimate sacrifice he made.  Thank you … George Rarey.

By Neal Benoit

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