That’s your grandfather jumping out of the plane …
This weekend HH’s grandfather, T. Moffatt Burriss, was honored for his courage during World War II in the capture of the brides in Nijmegen, Holland in the battle known as Operation Market Garden. Beatrix, Queen of The Netherlands, Prince Phillip of Great Britain, US General David Petraeus, the US Ambassador to The Netherlands, the German and Polish Ambassadors and numerous other military and civilian officials gathered to recognize the sacrifices American soldiers made during the liberation of Europe. It was an eventful and memorable weekend and His Holiness was there.
He missed a day of school and would be three days away from his favorite toys, but when promised a hotel room with a television, he was willing to go along. Before we had even left the neighborhood he was asking how long it would take to get there and when we were coming home. I explained to him that we would be going on a long trip, like when we went to America this summer. He got it and really didn’t bother with the question more than once or twice more during the trip. Later that morning, in a cow pasture about 20 minutes outside of Nijmegen, he watched his “Big Pa” parachute out of an airplane four days before his 90th birthday. He hit the ground smiling and we were all relieved. Another veteran jumped with him but his landing was not so smooth. He’s fine, but he had a few cuts and bruises and required a visit to a local hospital.
It was a powerful moment witnessing these two men who in their 20’s had jumped from their planes into a battle where a huge number of them would not survive. The impression I was left with was not just how remarkable their accomplishments are, but how it must feel for them to be in that pasture together, sixty-five years later. Whenever two or more of the veterans were together, one could almost sense the bond between them. Few experiences in life bind men together as do the nearness of death and the loss of friends.
We spent the weekend attending commemorative events and watching parades. But we took a big break in the middle for HH to visit one of the local playgrounds in Nijmegen. I’ve attached a picture because it was probably one of the nicest playgrounds I’ve even seen. We spent a good deal of time there and then took a long hike through the Dutch countryside. It was a full day and we expected HH to go right to bed. And we almost made it until he turned on the TV and caught a German Volksmusik program that he watches when he visits his German Aunt and Uncle. For those of you who have never heard or seen this music (I say seen because the costumes are a major part of the experience) it is very traditional, with accordions and rousing choruses and dirndl skirts for the ladies and lederhosen for the men. It’s beer hall music, German country and western and HH loves it. He was clapping along and laughing – he even knew some of the singers. It is all lip-synched and most of the performers were fortunate that the lighting technician was a forgiving person, but he enjoyed it and we enjoyed him enjoying it.
The big celebration was on Sunday and the entire city of Nijmegen was locked off – no traffic in or out. The Dutch have become very serious about the Queen’s security following a recent incident where a man drove his car into a crowd, killing seven, during an appearance by the Queen earlier this year. We sat in the VIP section behind the Queen and the other dignitaries, but we didn’t see much of the Majesties from our seats. It was nevertheless memorable and I hope HH will in fact remember some of it. Although if I had to guess, I would say the playground and the Hotel TV were probably the things he most enjoyed about the trip.
We made it home to Cologne and are awaiting word that Pig Pa made it home to the US safely as well. He is a remarkable man, not only for what he has done but by what he continues to do each day - engage life. Even while acknowledging the extraordinary events of his past, he was active, jumping out of that airplane at his age – at any age – and when he hit the ground he wasn’t saying how he was happy just to have survived, he was making plans to do it again. That’s a lesson worth remembering.