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WISH WE COULD TELL FULL STORY OF SOLDIER

May was especially unkind to the old soldier.

His wife died May 4. A week later, his brother. Then on May 29, one of his daughters.

Somehow he kept moving forward, as he did in 1944 when his outfit trudged through the snow in Belgium, killing Nazis and liberating prisoners.

"What choice do you have?'' he asked me. "You either live or you die.''

Halfway through your 80s, when so many people you knew and loved are no longer around, when your hearing is dull and the printed words blur, you have to search hard for inspiration.

He still has some family nearby. They check on him. A veterans club is just down the road in New Port Richey, and they feed him and talk about the brother he just lost, a Marine in his day.

He goes to church every Saturday.

One of his daughters in Ohio worries about her dad. Last week her letter arrived on my desk, although it was hard to tell how long ago she mailed it because the postmark was obscured. She sent it to our St. Petersburg office and somehow it got mixed in with hundreds of contest entries. Finally somebody saw the New Port Richey return address and figured maybe I should open it.

Out fell three handwritten pages on stationery with red, white and blue borders and stars. The daughter had included a snapshot of her father and his brother. They stood stiff in front of an American flag, staring into the camera. One wore a red Marine baseball cap, the other a knee brace.

They looked like most of the men you see killing time (dozing) on the benches at the mall while their wives shop at Dillard's.

They looked like my dad.

"I thought the paper should honor my dad in some way,'' the letter said. "He is a very special guy and to go through all that in one month and be in your 80s can be very dramatic. I am praying his spirits will be uplifted.''

It took awhile to find his phone number. I thought I was calling his daughter and was just about to hang up after several rings when the old man answered.

It took some convincing to keep him on the line. "You selling something?'' he asked.

I mentioned the letter, offered sympathy for his losses. He warmed a bit, told me about two years at Kent State University before getting drafted into the Army and shipping off to war.

He arrived in France after D-day and managed to escape injury but had the misfortune of being in a unit assigned to head to Japan after victory in Europe. On the ship heading overseas, they got word that the war was over.

In the next three decades, he drove a truck and raised six children. He lost his first wife at age 37 and later married a "beautiful lady,'' the daughter wrote. He retired here some 30 years ago.

I'd like to tell you his story, but he won't let me.

"Nobody wants to know about me,'' he said. "I'm just an old man.''

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