Learning from the past to make a better future


Cameron Hamm, Writer

Recently, while visiting an Applebee’s, I noticed an older gentlemen sitting in a tiny booth with his wife. Or rather, I noticed his hat, which read, “WWII Veteran.” Immediately, I was struck with a sense of curiosity and fascination. Here was a man who was a piece to the puzzle of the last 90 years or so. While sometimes my interaction with history is constrained only to bolded terms on a textbook, here was an opportunity to learn something.

At first, I was hesitant to approach him, simply because approaching strangers isn’t something I do often, but being a lover of history and someone interested in military service, I couldn’t pass up this chance to chat. I introduced myself, shook his hand and found out that this man had fought in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the nastiest battles of the war, while serving under General Patton. Although I walked away with only a glimpse into this man’s experiences, I exited with a smile, which was a reflection of this veteran’s face, for he seemed delighted that someone took the time to listen.

After that encounter, I realized my generation may be missing out on something vital to our historical fabric: individual stories, and more importantly, the speaker behind such stories. It is not uncommon for teenagers to roll their eyes at the thought of reciting facts from some historical event that feels so isolated and far away. However, when we take the time to listen to those who experienced such events firsthand, we gain a valuable perspective on where we come from, and where we can go from here.

The rough fact is that those WWII veterans will not be around for a long time to come. Most veterans are in their early 90’s, and when they go, their stories will be gone with them. Sometimes it is difficult to confront the past; the mistakes made can act as painful reminders of wrongdoings. Recently, when Schindler’s List was voted to be the next film my film club would watch, a few members refrained from the group viewing, saying it was too depressing to watch. And while it certainly was arduous to see the pain man can inflict upon his fellow man, the importance of acceptance and the idea that man can be redeemed were truly uplifting themes we need to take the time to learn from. Eventually it will be us at the helm, steering where we want our nation to go. When we take the time to listen to the stories of the past, we become equipped to shape a better future.