As we approach Veterans Day, I’m reminded of the many ways in which we can express our gratitude for their service to our country. Daughters across the nation will participate in parades and special events to thank those who served to ensure our freedom.
I’d like to share with you a touching story of one World War II veteran who was honored years ago by a DAR member. Last week Rudolph Tafel “Taffy” of Pennsylvania dropped by my office while in DC to visit the World War II Memorial. He asked Heidi Chapman, Executive Assistant to the President General, to help him locate “his” seat in Constitution Hall.
Taffy enlisted in the Army during World War II and was sent to Rutgers University for the Army Specialized Training Program where he met Dave Faut. They were later assigned to the 104th Infantry Division in different companies and sent overseas, landing on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day. Their next assignment was with the British Army in Holland, with the Canadian 1st division.
Mr. Tafel wrote “This was a very difficult and costly campaign and neither of us knew if the other had survived. We were then sent to Aachen, Germany, and as I was moving up for an attack, I heard a voice call "Taffy!" It was Dave, calling from an upstairs window. It was the last time I saw him; he was killed that night.”
Years later Mr. Tafel received a letter from Dave’s sister, Jeanne Faut Hicklin of California, now deceased, whom he had never met, inquiring if he was the Rudy who knew her brother. She had idolized her brother and was eager to know more about him. Mr. Tafel and Mrs. Hicklin corresponded and he shared his memories of Dave with her.
During the renovation of Constitution Hall in the 1990s, Mrs. Hicklin sponsored a seat in memory of her brother and in honor of Mr. Tafel. All these years later Mr. Tafel visited our building to finally see “his” seat.
Despite Heidi’s best efforts to locate his seat, she was unable to find it until after he had departed the building. However, she did take a photograph of him in Constitution Hall in which he later Photoshopped his friend Dave as if they were sitting together. Heidi emailed a photo of the plaque later that afternoon and below is a portion of Mr. Tafel’s response:
“Wars are terrible tragedies for all that experience them. No movie, no book, no personal communication can ever truly relate the cruelty and horror of combat. By the time Dave was killed I was a veteran combat soldier, a leader who had adjusted to the constant death of buddies and the daily attempt to put shattered young bodies together in an attempt to save their lives. But of course that bravado was only a facade, a mechanism to help us endure the unendurable. I was devastated when I heard that Dave had been killed. I even wondered how I could go on, constantly leading other young bodies forward into the cauldron. I became well aware that the veneer of civilization was indeed mighty thin.
But duty does call, and the need to serve our country and the responsibility one feels for his buddies kept us moving forward and eventually winning a war that had to be won.
I have spoken to many High School classes about WW II. I always stress my belief that we all should willingly serve our country in times of need. However, I also try to communicate to them the true cost of war and that we should always strive mightily to find other solutions to our problems, whenever possible. Dave has been with me on every one of those talks. I take his picture and use it to show how one death, among the millions killed in the war, created so much grief and loss.
We are honored that Dave has recognition in your auditorium. Thank you again for helping to keep this poignant memory alive. First, many thanks for your tireless efforts in locating our seat marker. We are most grateful.”
Twenty-five years later, Mrs. Hicklin’s thoughtful gift is remembered with gratitude by one of our World War II veterans.
This Veterans Day, please not only fly your flag, but take time to thank a veteran for his/her unselfish service to our country.
Our website has many suggestions for ways in which we can serve those who served us. http://members.dar.org/committees/vet/projects.htm
Please let me know how you commemorated Veterans Day so I can share those stories in the future.