As fireworks bang on the Fourth of July and the Star Spangled Banner plays, we often forget about the meaning behind the celebration. The wars and battles that protected our country produced thousands of heroes, eight of whom are traveling with us. However, with all of our celebrations and festivals, we can convince ourselves that war is a good thing. While spending time with our veteran, Walter Fitzmaurice, we have realized just how atrocious war can be.
Unlike many of the soldiers joined the military because they were inspired to fight, Walt had the responsibility of war thrusted upon him. Drafted into the Army Air Force in 1942 at the age of eighteen, he reluctantly left his home to face the uncertainty ahead. His call to service was untimely, but his duty to serve and protect the country he loved far outweighed his personal desires. Soon after basic training, he was selected for radio operator training in South Dakota. When asked if he wanted to learn radio operations, he simply responded, “At that time, I just wanted to go home.”
Walter and his nine fellow crew members were eventually stationed at Shipdham Air Base in England, where they received final training on their plane—the B-24. As a part of the 44th Bomb Group and 68th Squadron, the crew flew thirty total missions across Europe. Amazingly, all members of Walt's crew survived, in spite of close encounters with the enemy and three crash landings. Walter received the French Medal of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and was allowed to return to the US in 1945 to begin his life after war.
The first thing Walter taught us was that there IS life after war. The men who survived lived the rest of their lives forever changed because of their time in service. Forced to mature quickly, Walter and others made incredible sacrifices. But we must remember to honor who they are, not just what they did. Walter was an airman who bravely defended his country in its time of need. However, Walter Fitzmaurice is a husband of 64 years, a father of eight children, an active Massachusetts citizen, and a man with stories that should be heard. That is WHO he is.
As we have learned who Walter is today, he has also taught us about the past. At the American Air Museum, he showed us all the working parts of a B-24 aircraft. At the Cambridge American Cemetery, we escorted him past the grave sites of fellow airmen as he told us his own experiences. On each bus ride, he has passed on life lessons that have impacted him. But most of all, we have witnessed how big Walter Fitzmaurice's heart is. He has shown that loving deeply, even in times of pain, is the best way to display the love of Christ.
Ramsey-Michele Pruitt, sophomore
Matthew Matney, senior