WILKES-BARRE — Color Jim Walsh red, white and blue.
Jim is 93-and-a-half now and still as feisty as ever — especially when it comes to patriotism, and not just on Memorial Day weekend.
Jim loves his country — our country — and he never misses an opportunity to tell anybody who will listen why this is the greatest nation in the world and why we all should never forget that.
Jim is a veteran of World War II — “the Big One” — where he fought in the European Theater and the Battle of the Bulge.
To put that in perspective, the significance of the Battle of the Bulge is that it decimated the German army and hastened the end of World War II.
And Jim Walsh was there.
Some interesting facts about the Battle of the Bulge from historynet.com:
Date: Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 16, 1945 — a month-long battle in excruciating cold conditions.
Location: The Ardennes, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.
Result: Allied victory
Troop strength: 80,000 Allies initially; ultimately 600,000-plus; 200,000 Germany initially; ultimately 500,000.
Casualties: 90,000 Allies; 100,000 German.
Those last numbers — the casualties — those are the most difficult to process.
And Jim Walsh was there and survived.
”Oh, it was cold,” Jim told me when we talked about the battle.
Keep in mind, Jim Walsh was 18 in May 1943, when he enlisted with two of his high school classmates. They left school early, receiving their diplomas when they returned from war.
When asked why he and his pals were so anxious to join the military, Jim was quick with his response.
“We were anxious to serve our country,” he said. “In our minds, it was patriotic. We never realized what we were getting into — nobody did.”
The simple fact is that if it weren’t for patriots like Jim and his buddies and so many thousands of others, this very well could be a different world we live in and probably a world with far less freedoms. Jim put it quite clearly.
“Because if it wasn’t for our sacrifice, there wouldn’t be a country — we wouldn’t be here,” Jim said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Jim had three classmates killed in World War II. He feels pain every time he thinks of all the lives lost and all that were changed forever. He realizes how different the lives of so many others were also impacted. Jim often struggles with the thoughts of what could have been.
“That’s why we should never forget,” Jim said.
So in the decades since the war, Jim has dedicated much of his life to perpetuating that “never forget” sentiment. He belongs to several veterans organizations and he always urges everyone to proudly display the American flag — not just on designated patriotic holidays, but every day.
“I’ve always been patriotic,” Jim said. “I’ve tried to do all I could to keep patriotism alive.”
Over the years, Jim has taken money out of his own pocket to purchase American flags of all sizes and he distributes them everywhere he can. He implores everyone to display the flag — to show their patriotism.
”I just feel everyone should be proud of their country — to never forget,” Jim said.
Jim said patriotism needs to be perpetuated —he’s seen it waning in recent years.
“This is the greatest country in the world,” he said. “And we (veterans) saved this country several times over. If it wasn’t for the brave soldiers, we would be history.
“We saved the country — we saved the world.”
And that is no exaggeration.
I grew up in a home where patriotism was part of our daily lives. My dad, as I’ve said before, lost his right leg on a beach in northern France when he stepped on a landmine. Dad would take me to veterans ceremonies all the time, making sure that I stood at attention, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem.
It was about showing respect for a group of men and women who deserve it perhaps more than any others.
It’s not too much to ask. To say “thank you” to every veteran we encounter. To show them respect and appreciation for what they did for all of us.
The number of surviving World War II veterans is getting smaller all the time. You’ve seen the photos. Many are up in age and their bodies are weakening.
But their spirit will never die. They will forever know that they proudly served their country and because of their service, we all can enjoy freedom.
God bless veterans like Jim Walsh. God bless them all.
We can never thank you enough.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]