Tammy and I have learned so many things on this journey these now almost six years. One of the first concerned use of the word memorial. We decided we didn’t like it. It is a wonderful word and denotes a feeling of respect and honor, but we did not think it fit with James’ story. We felt memorial dealt with finality, an ending. We wanted to focus on James’ life and how he lived, and thought legacy was a much better fit. Early in the search for James, somebody put up a Facebook page, Come Home Safe James Eunice. One of the first items posted was a quote from the character Odysseus in the movie Troy, “Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we’re gone and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?” It’s a quote that speaks of legacy, and how we hope to be remembered. What difference did we make in the lives of others and continue to have on others? James lived life out loud and invested in others, regardless of who they were or where they came from. He once wrote, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another John 13:34. That is my resolution. So, I don’t care who you are or where you come from. I love you :).”
We know of the legacies of our founding fathers and famous people through the years, but we hear, too, of the continuing legacy of ordinary men and women who make a difference by who they are and how they live. When we share James’ story, we often close with the words, “leave a legacy worth remembering.”
I just finished reading Rick Atkinson’s “The Day of Battle,” which chronicled the battle for Italy in World War II. During the battle for San Pietro, he wrote about a young man from Texas, Captain Henry Waskow. He had grown up poor, but worked hard. He graduated from high school with the second highest GPA in 20 years. He attended Trinity College, where he joined the Texas Guard, and rose through the ranks to Captain. One of his friends said about him, “he was never young.” He wrote a “just in case” letter to his family as he shipped overseas, “If I seemed strange at times it was because I had weighty responsibilities that preyed on my mind and wouldn’t let me slack up to be human like I so wanted to be.”
Captain Waskow was killed in the battle for San Pietro as he led his men up Hill 730. He was 25. Ernie Pyle, one of the most famous World War II journalists, was embedded with allied forces when Waskow was killed, and was there when they brought Waskow’s body back down the hill by mule. Pyle shared “In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But I have never crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Captain Henry C. Waskow, of Belton, Tex.” One of Waskow’s soldiers shared, “After my own father, he comes next.”
Waskow left a letter for his family. In it he wrote, “If you get to read this, I will have died in defense of my country and all that it stands for—the most honorable and distinguished death a man can die. It was not because I was willing to die for my country, however—I wanted to live for it—just as any other person wants to do. It is foolish and foolhardy to want to die for one’s country, but to live for it is something else.
To live for one’s country is, to my mind, to live a life of service; to—in a small way—help a fellow man occasionally along the way, and generally to be useful and to serve. It also means to me to rise up in all our wrath and with overwhelming power to crush any oppressor of human rights. . . .
Try to live a life of service—to help someone where you are or whatever you may be—take it from me; you can get happiness out of that, more than anything in life.”
He wrote to his family, “I would have liked to have lived. But since God has willed otherwise, do not grieve too much, dear ones, for life in the other world must be beautiful, and I have lived a life with that in mind all along. I was not afraid to die, you can be assured of that.”
He continued, “I will have done my share to make this world a better place in which to live. Maybe when the lights go on again all over the world, free people can be happy and gay again….If I failed as a leader, and I pray God I didn’t, it was not because I did not try.”
- His letter speaks of the type of person Capt. Waskow was, and helps you to understand why his soldiers felt about him like they did. The Library of America website featured Captain Waskow’s story recently. In it, they mention that the legacy of Capt. Waskow continues to endure, even seven decades after his death. Lieutenant Bill Walker, the fictional hero played by Robert Mitchum in the 1945 movie The Story of G. I. Joe, was based in part on Waskow (and the death scene in the movie is notably faithful to Pyle’s dispatch). The high school at which Waskow was student council president bears his name. That’s a legacy worth remembering. One of the first movies James David eunice ever saw was Toy Story. Most people are familiar with the character Buzz Lightyear. His signature statement was, “To infinity and beyond.” Maybe that should be our goal, to build a legacy that will last to “infinity and beyond.” Captain Waskow’s legacy has lasted these seventy plus years because of how he lived, and I know it will last for years to come. Build a legacy worth remembering. You’ll make the world a better place.