The men and women at Horace Nye helped build the greatest country in the world: the United States. They are part of the "greatest generation" that Tom Brokaw wrote about. They are American heroes.
They came from Moriah, Willsboro, Westport, Elizabethtown, Ticonderoga, Schroon Lake and just about every town in Essex County. They were the brave men and women who joined military service during war and fought to keep us all free. They are our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that helped to raise each one of us. They were our neighbors, our teachers, our volunteer firemen, our coaches, our policemen and so much more. They helped build the middle class in America that largely did not exist before World War II.
Frank is 85 years old and has blue-grey eyes and a devilish smile. Frank was just 18 and graduating from high school when he joined the service at the dawn of World War II.
"I learned that the military had a twisted sense of humor early on," he said. "My training was with the combat engineers. As we sailed to our destination I was surprised to learn that I would be going to India as an engineer, the kind that drives a locomotive, not the kind that builds bridges."
At just eighteen, the responsibility for operating that locomotive was terrifying. The Japanese constantly shot at the train and Frank showed me a nasty scar that ran across his hand and up his arm, the aftermath of a Japanese bayonet attack.
"What I remember most was returning to New York City at the war's end," Frank said. "They really put on the dog for us. I can still taste that porterhouse steak."
Alfred is 83 years old and is a large, imposing man with a powerful handshake. Alfred was stationed at Okinawa, where many Japanese prisoners were held.
"The prisoners were quiet and humble," he recalled. "I don't think that they had yet come to grips with losing the war."
Pete is 82 and is a friendly man who is kind to everyone. Pete was at Pusan during the Korean War, an area that came under several major attacks.
"It was so cold that many men got frostbite," said Pete. "The conditions were horrible; to this day I'm not too fond of cold weather."
Harris, 85, is a retired Lt. Colonel and flew C-46s and C-47s during World War II. In September 1942, Harris boarded a train in Willsboro and got off in Texas. He intended to be a pilot but the Army had another idea in mind. In the end, Harris won his right to fly and completed his pilot training. He shipped out to the Pacific Theater and landed at Okinawa. Harris had a number of close calls during the war including landing in a rice paddy on a return flight from China. After the war, Harris was a lifelong advocate for area veterans and helped many North Country soldiers get what they needed and deserved.
There are many other veterans at the home that gave their all for us and they too deserve our gratitude and our respect. The nursing home is full of American heroes. They were faithful patriots, solid community citizens and now, in their senior years, they hold an important piece of Essex County and national heritage within them. Most are facing health challenges and need our support, and they have earned it. In my mind, the only difference in the residents at the Horace Nye Nursing Home and the rest of us is they are a little farther down the road on life's journey. Remember, all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org