Peter Wehner shares a letter written by his wife’s uncle, Frank Keaton, shortly before landing on Omaha Beach. It makes very good reading for Independence Day.
From Peter Wehner, An Extraordinary Letter « Commentary Magazine:
Dear Mother and Dad:
Here is the letter I both like and dislike to write. Tomorrow we are scheduled to board the ship which will take us wherever we may be going. I know how you feel about my leaving the States. But I also know how I feel about it, and my way is the way you must learn to look at it.
In my thirty-one years I have had everything a boy could want. I had the love of two parents and wonderful brothers and sisters, with all the [kindness] we had a home that had everything a home should have. Our whole family combined to give me a name of which I can be justly proud. Through these people and through myself there is a list of true friends, many of whom have gone further than anything that friendship demands.
I’ve grown up with the constant help and guidance of these people. I have gone to school, later to college to learn a profession with every advantage of heritage and surroundings. I’ve had everything a boy needs to shape a life of usefulness.
My eyes have seen much of this country of ours. If I do not come back there is nothing to be sorry about because I have had all of these things. I’ve done most of the things I’ve wanted to do, I’ve seen many of the things I wanted to see, and I’ve already had a life-time of fun.
Now, here is the most important thing of all. Up to now, I’ve given nothing for what I have taken, and now I am at the age when usefulness to our society and to the world at large is expected of me, so that my life will be justified in the eyes of God and man.
What better thing can a man ask for than a chance to fight for what he believes in, fight to give the new generation and the generations not yet born a chance to live a life like my own has been, a chance to play, to go to school and learn about the world, not just one race and one creed; a chance to love and be loved, a chance to see the greatness of the world that God has given us, and a chance to add a name to the long line of great men and women who have made names for themselves in every line of endeavor.
When I think of this my heart swells up and chokes me. Here, early in life, I’m given the opportunity to serve, to make the living of my life not in vain. Some men live a full lifetime and do not achieve this one distinction. This world conflict has given me an easy chance and a big opportunity.
This, then is the way I want you to look at it. You both have given me everything that it was in your power to give me. Give all the kids a big hug and kiss for me and say good-bye to all my friends. My last request of you is “Do not pray only that I shall return, but that I will have the power to do my duty.”
Your ever loving son,
Despite this reflection about impending death, Frank did survive D-Day, though he was wounded crossing the Rhine. He went on to win the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.