A few months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing a man by the name of Walter Connor. He wasn’t a local celebrity, or a business owner, in fact, most people who walked past him on the street probably wouldn’t give him a second glance.
He was an older gentleman, with shaky hands and poor hearing. He had served as reverend of a local church, but that was “years ago,” he said. He walked with a cane and was dressed in slacks and a button down shirt.
When I got to his house, he took me on a tour of the one floor ranch where he stopped to point out a picture of his late wife. He told me a quick story about the day they shared their first kiss and how in all his years of life, that was still his favorite memory.
He led me into the dining room where he had a pitcher of iced tea and two glasses set out among piles of picture books, and we started talking.
Each picture held a story that Connor was happy to tell. They were pictures from his recent trip to Washington, D.C. by way of Honor Flight.
Connor served in the Navy during World War II and then again during Korea. He enlisted at 17 following in his brother’s and father’s footsteps. His brother served in the Army Air Force and his father was a Navy Seabee. He enrolled at the Teacher’s College in Indiana, Pa., got a degree and met his wife, but that’s a story for another day.
Years later, in the small little town of Dansville, Connor was urged to complete the application for Honor Flight by his longtime friend David Wicks. The two got the chance to fly to Baltimore and spend the day in Washington, D.C. where Connor finally got to see the monuments honoring his service and that of his fellow WWII comrades.
He told me how it was his first time in our nation’s capital but what amazed him most was the amount of people who stopped to shake his hand and thank him for his service and how the Honor Flight volunteers carried around hand sanitizer for the veterans.
After lunch, dinner and a flight back to Rochester, Connor was exhausted but thankful for the opportunity Honor Flight gave him. When they stepped off the plane in Rochester, Connor couldn’t believe his eyes, or ears.
“I got off the plane and everyone started cheering, I turned to look who was behind me, waiting to see Prince William, but it was me they were cheering for. That brought tears to my eyes.”
Last week I watched a documentary on WWII and the invasion of the Normandy Beaches. They had some veterans who spoke about what they saw and what was going through their heads and I let my thoughts drift to Walter Connor and all the other WWII veterans.
With the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, and so few of the Greatest Generation left, I hope everyone gets the chance to meet with their own Walter Connor. Because that is one interview that is going to stick with me for my entire journalism career.