By Judy Morton
Veterans Day Thanking Our Heroes for the sacrifices they have made so that we enjoy our freedoms. I wanted to share a story about a very special man, I thought I knew very well. There was more to him than I knew.
Harry Mitchell, my parents’ next door neighbor was a quiet, gentle, unassuming man. For many years he had a very large dog, Mr. Pal – a gentle giant, with some Great Dane and who knows what else in his family tree. After some heart issues, Harry was advised to walk for his heart health, so every afternoon, he and Mr. Pal would take off for their daily walk. Once someone complained that the dog wasn’t on a leash, and he was warned that the dog had to be leashed in future; after that Harry faithfully put a short leash on Mr. Pal, then offered the dog the handle end, and Mr. Pal would carry the leash in his mouth. Technically, he was “leashed”…. Kids around the neighborhood loved him and the dog and would frequently ask if Mr. Pal could come out and play. Harry would bring the dog into the front yard, and sit in a lawn chair under an elm tree, watching his neighbors’ kids and grandkids running around.
He was always willing to help his neighbors; after my father died, Harry would come over and help Mother with little honey-dos that she wasn’t able to do herself. Mother loved to cook, so she would have little dinner parties for Harry and his wife Kathleen, as a “thank you” for his help.
I remember how lost he seemed after Kathleen died. They were married for 50 years, and he always referred to her as “My Kathy”. They were a devoted couple, always quietly happy in each others’ presence, and after her sudden death from a heart attack, he mostly just seemed to be patiently waiting to join her.
Harry always kept a journal, and in his later years, he spent some time going through it and getting it all organized. His goal was to leave something for his children and especially his grandchildren to read, to learn more about their family roots, and about the events that shaped the family. After his death, one of his grandsons had the journal self-published for all in the family to have a copy. He also gave a copy of it to my mom. It’s titled: Mystory.
I was 14 when we moved next door to the Mitchells, and I knew him for 35 years before his death. I thought I knew him. I did not.
More on Veterans Day Thanking Our Heroes…
Harry S. Mitchell, Jr. served in the Army Air Corps as a B-17 radio operator and waist gunner for 3 years in WWII. He flew 35 missions, and survived 4 crashes – one during training, and the other three due to enemy gunfire. His last bombing mission was a “long, LONG flight to Dresden” for a Russian troop support strike. During his service, he saw at least 50 B-17s shot down, each one meaning the death and loss of 9 crewmen.
He never talked about it. We would never have known what he went through, what he accomplished, if not for his decision that his children and their children – and generations yet to come – should know about his life. His journal was not started with any end in view except to express himself and as a release – the same reason many people write journals. He made no attempts to glorify himself or his actions, no attempt to cover his weaknesses or faults or enlarge on his good deeds. He was a humble man, being honest with himself as he wrote down his feelings.
We lived next door to him, laughed with him, thought well of him, and cared about him. We took him cookies and baked goodies, said hello when we saw him outside, and enjoyed his company. But we never really knew the truth about him until after we’d lost him.
He was a hero.
Today is Veteran’s Day. Today, many of us will stop and take a few minutes of our time to think about the veterans we know and knew, and to honor their memories. I am proud to have had several veterans in my family, and right now, I want to name them and honor their accomplishments and sacrifices:
My father, John Marcia, who gave up his dream of becoming a doctor, dropped out of college and joined the Army Air Corps right after Pearl Harbor.
My father-in-law, Harold Morton, who served in the Navy, and crewed spotter planes out of Guantanamo Bay, and was a sharp-shooter instructor.
My twin uncles, John and Robert Knox, who served – together, the whole time – in the Army Corps of Engineers, during some of the worst fighting in the South Pacific, and later in Japan.
My youngest uncle, Louis Knox, who dropped out of high school 2 months before graduation, to join the Navy and serve in the Pacific – and then went back to high school and finished after the war was over.
My husband, Doug, who served on the U.S.S. Oriskany for 3 years during the Vietnam war.
And Harry S. Mitchell, Jr., who was, perhaps, the quietest hero of all.
Meet Judy Morton
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