With Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day right around the corner, we at MIL want to take a moment to reflect and thank those who have served. It’s important to honor their stories, as they often offer valuable lessons of courage and self-sacrifice, giving us a window into what it is like to defend our country.

This year, we reached out to Steve Witt for such a story. Steve is a Program Manager and Client Relationship Manager at MIL, but he also spent 20 years on active duty in the Army as a Special Forces qualified Signal Officer and Foreign Area Officer (pictured left). The story that he shared with us is one from his youth, as he recounts his Uncle Bill’s experiences, who fought in in the Invasion of Normandy during World War II.

On Mon., May 29, Americans across this country and service members located around the world will pause to observe Memorial Day.  Since it was first established in 1868, it has been a day of remembrance for those who sacrificed and died in service to our nation.

My thoughts are of my Uncle Bill who on June 6, 1944, was one of the many members of the 82nd Airborne Division to perform a night combat jump into Normandy, France as part of “Operation Market Garden.”  I was told that he rarely talked about that event and that when he did, his eyes would glaze over and it was clear that he was telling the story not from the comfort of our home, but from inside that noisy, cramped airplane hurtling across the English Channel to empty its cargo of frightened young men into the pitch black night sky over Normandy.

“Weren’t you scared?” I remember asking my uncle in naïve innocence.

“I was scared to death, absolutely terrified,” he had replied. “But I was in charge and everyone on the airplane was watching me to see how I would act.  They were depending upon me. Many were drawing what strength they had from what they perceived to be their unafraid leader executing his duties flawlessly and without fear. In fact, I’m sure I was more terrified than the rest of those boys put together. But they were counting on me and I couldn’t let them down. So, I tried to put all my fears behind me and concentrated on what I had been taught… and what I knew had to be done.”

“We all know the truth,” he continued. “We knew that some of us were going to die, some horribly.  But we believed.  We believed in our country and ourselves and that what we were doing was a cause worth dying for, even though we didn’t want to – nobody did. Who would? When we stood up to hook our static lines to the anchor line cable, I could see knees knocking together.  I could see the terrified looks in their eyes.  But I know that not one of those men would fail to follow me out the door – not one.”

“When the green light came on (our signal to jump), I just reacted,” he said as he remembered that night. “As I neared the ground, the moon illuminated an artillery crater partially filled with water – I thought I might land in it – I did.  There were two German soldiers in that crater using it as concealment from our invading paratroopers.”

“What then?” I had asked.  He was silent again and then finally stood up slowly and gave me his reply.

“Well, I’m here . . . so let’s go see about that lunch your Mom is making for us.”

And that’s the last I ever heard him talk about it.

Our country is filled with Uncle Bills. We owe our thanks and honor to those who died securing peace and freedom; to those who served in conflict to protect our land; to those who sacrificed their dreams of the day to preserve the hope of our nation; and to all those who continue to serve today.

So let us pause with respect on this Memorial Day to remember those honorable individuals who fought, for those who gave their life, and for those who willingly stand ready today to do the same.

About the Author:

Steve Witt is a Program Manager and Client Relationship Manager for MIL’s Engineering/C4ISR division.  In addition to his prior service in the Army, Steve continues his service today, as he is actively involved with providing transition assistance to senior service members making the switch from active duty to the private sector.