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How My Dad's Wounds of War Fueled My Drive to Serve Vets

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 27, 2023 3:01 am

How My Dad's Wounds of War Fueled My Drive to Serve Vets

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 27, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Diane Height's father was a war hero—but also an alcoholic due to his PTSD from World War II. To honor him, she founded Forever Young Veterans, an organization started on the principle of taking WWII vets to the memorial in Washington D.C.—and which became an effort to take them back to Normandy and beyond. Here's her story.

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An organization in Memphis, Tennessee that grants wishes for World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans. She does it out of love for one of the most important men ever to be in her life. Let's get into the story.

I think I'd do it for my dad. He loved people. He was very outgoing. He was handsome. And people liked him.

And I liked him. He was playful. He loved to go swimming. He liked to play games.

I remember him riding my bicycle. He owned his own barbershop. He was very talented.

He would have people that would come from long distances to get their hair cut by him. He was an artist. He really was.

I enjoyed that part of him. But my dad was known as an alcoholic. It was very humiliating.

It was shameful, hurtful. If his lips touched alcohol, he was a goner, and he would be drunk for a solid week, two weeks. The longest that he was intoxicated was a month, and that's without stopping. I'm talking about drinking from the moment he woke up until he went to bed and just did that for a solid month. So we really struggled a lot. And back in World War II, I know this is very hard for people to understand, but they didn't trust banks.

It was a new thing. Giving your money to a bank, I mean, why would you take that kind of risk? So he kept all his money in his wallet, which he would have a lot of money in his wallet. Then he would go and start drinking, and what do you think would happen? He would lose all his money. Somebody would take it from him. And then we didn't have anything.

I remember several times the church bringing us food. I know my dad did not want to be that way. I know that. I know he hated it. But I don't think he knew how to get out of it. And because they didn't address PTSD back in those days, he was just in a vicious cycle. When my dad went to war, he was 17. I mean, that's just a young, very young man.

He had never been anywhere. He was just a country farm boy. And I think he probably had a very tender, soft heart. Well, my uncle got drafted into the army, and he was in the first calve. He went on the beaches of Leyte, and they gave him the silver star medal. Well, when my uncle Aaron was drafted, my dad thought, I don't think I would work out too well in the army. So he joined the Coast Guard.

He thought that this would be the safest branch, because he thought they would guard the coast. Have you ever heard the saying, A drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts? That was my dad. He never talked about it. But he did when he was drinking. He was crying. He ended up on a frigate, and they lost people. He had lost comrades. He had been asked to do some things that really devastated him. And because he cared so much about people, it wounded his soul. We were on a trip one time, and one of the daughters said to me, The Navy's safe.

And I said, Oh, please don't say that. I mean, I knew a man that was on the USS Indianapolis. They all have risk. I know my dad suffered. Our family suffered too.

When you have something dysfunctional going on in your family like that, it's really devastating for everyone. But as I began to grant wishes for World War II veterans, something happened that really shocked me. And that was the fact that I found these World War II veterans were suffering just like my father. And their families were suffering as well, just like we did. And I did not expect that, because any time you go through something like a tragedy or alcoholism or you have anything like that going on in your life, you think you're the only one.

And I really did. I didn't know that other people were suffering the same way. One thing about my dad is he loved America, and he instilled that in me. Where there is great sacrifice, there's great love. It's just like raising children.

There's a lot of sacrifice in raising kids, but oh, the love you have for them. And it was the same way with my dad in America. He had sacrificed so much for our country. And oh, the love he had for our nation. So instilling that in me, I wanted to give back to the World War II veterans because my dad had never asked for anything from our country.

He didn't for what he had done. I felt like I had a calling. I really had this feeling that I was supposed to do something, and I didn't know what it was.

And I got down on my knees and I prayed, and I asked God to show me. I had a family. I was always cooking dinner at 5.30 in the evening, so I never watched the national news. And on this day, my children were gone. They were older at this time. My youngest son was a senior in high school.

My husband was a pilot at FedEx. So I went in and I turned on the TV. It was the national news. And at that very moment, it showed a gentleman from Indianapolis who was granting a wish for a senior lady. She was 92 years old, and her wish was to ride in a race car at the Indianapolis 500. And I've always had such a love for older people.

And when she got out of that race car and she had on racing gear, and she had just the joy on her face, I thought, this is exactly what I'm going to do. So that's basically how it started, granting wishes for World War II veterans. And you've been listening to Diane Hite share deeply personal stories about her family, about her dad, and about herself in the end and what it was like growing up with a father who suffered from PTSD due to his service in World War II and who knows what other trauma he might have experienced before World War II, back before anybody was allowed to talk about such things. It was just not done. Guys came back from World War II then?

Well, they just went back to life. The best years of our lives, the movie, the Oscar-winning movie, with Frederic March, go to Amazon and buy it, that's what that movie's about in the end. One of the first movies to, cinematically and in mass ways, look at the impact of war on mostly men at the time, men were the ones at the front lines. Her description of her father's alcoholism, what heart she had, she didn't judge her dad, she tried to understand her dad despite the havoc he may have wreaked on the family because of his alcoholism, sometimes going on benders for a week, sometimes for a month, the mere taste of alcohol, sending him off into a bad place for a long time.

And even that description of him having the money on him and getting it rolled when he'd get drunk and coming home with not only no work but no money. And yet there she is, praying a fervent prayer, wondering what she can do to honor men like her dad, who gave so much to the country and asked for nothing back. I think that's what really struck her, the sacrificial nature of what so many of our soldiers have and continue to do for this country and ask for nothing. Truly they ask for nothing. When we come back, more of Diane Haidt's story, her father's story, and the prayer that was answered.

She was determined to grant wishes for World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans. More of Diane Haidt's story here on Our American Stories. Where?

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That's invite code GETDROP777. And we return to our American stories and the story of Forever Young Veterans, an organization that grants wishes for World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans. Telling the story is the group's founder, Diane Hite. When we last left off, we found out that Diane started the organization because she wanted to give back to people like her father who fought for freedom. Let's get back to the story.

Here again is Diane Hite. I was thinking in the beginning that I would grant just some small individual wishes for them. Maybe we could reunite them with a comrade they hadn't seen or maybe get them a medal that they were promised that they never received.

That's kind of what I was thinking. One of our first was a World War II pilot. He just wanted to sit in a cockpit and just talk about the advances in aviation technology. So we arranged for him to do that.

FedEx, they were kind enough to let him go into one of their airplanes. And there were several pilots that went in there with him. And in my mind, I'm thinking, oh, this is going to be really nice. He's going to sit in this modern-day cockpit and just talk about some of the things in there for 30 minutes. And they were in there for four hours. It brought him so much joy.

He enjoyed it immensely. But the wishes, they didn't stay small very long, I can say that. I never thought about taking veterans on trips. That never entered my mind. It kind of happened by accident, I say, because I had a veteran that asked me if I would take him to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. And I said yes. And of course, I wasn't going to take a trip with him. What I was doing was arranging for one of my friends who was a Marine in D.C. I was going to fly this veteran there, and he was going to intercept him and take him around to the memorials.

And then he was going to fly back. That was my plan. But what ended up happening is I found out seniors do talk. I received a phone call from a veteran, and he's like, hey, I was at the athletic club, and this World War II veteran said that you were sending him to Washington, D.C., and I want to go.

I'm a WW2 vet. And I was like, okay. So I took down his name and number. Then the next day I get a phone call, and this man said, we were at church last night, and this vet said that you were taking him to the World War II Memorial.

There's five of us in our church, and we would really like to go. I said, okay. And I took down his name and phone number, and it just kept happening. And I get a phone call from our local newspaper in Memphis, and they said, we hear that you're taking World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. And I was like, yes.

And at this time I really didn't know how I was going to work all this out. And I said, well, we have eight veterans on the list right now, so we can only take a couple more. My husband used to be stationed at the Pentagon, and so I asked him, I said, since you're used to driving in D.C., how about if we just take these eight vets, and we will rent a van there, and we'll take them to the memorial, and we'll just fly back with them.

And he's like, that's fine. So I'm thinking about a 15-passenger van. Well, I told the newspaper, I said, you have to put in there that we can only take three more. And guess what happened? We had 30 World War II veterans contact us, and they went up to their upper 90s. And I realized then they were not going to be able to go alone. So I went to a travel agency and said, you've got to help me get these guys there. So our first trip to Washington, D.C., was in 09. We had about 50 of us total. And when we got there, we just saw such healing take place in their lives. It was a perfect trip.

Now, in my mind, I was thinking this was a one-time deal. We got back, and within 48 hours, we had 50 more veterans. And each time we went, we would just see God work miracles in their lives, just even going to D.C., just the camaraderie of them being together. It was just amazing to see that so many of them, just like my dad, had never talked about it. Many of them had come home and become alcoholics, or they had dealt with it in their own way.

But one thing that they all had in common was they were suffering silently. One thing that happened on one of these trips, we were in Washington, D.C., and one of our veterans, he kept me on the shoulder, and he said, do you know what I really want? So what do you really want? He said, well, you take me back to Normandy.

And I kind of laughed. It's one thing taking 95-year-olds to Washington, D.C., it's a whole other thing taking them out of the country. I went to church on Sunday, and I said to my Sunday school class, I said, I need you all to pray that God will give me a sign, because if I shouldn't be taking these men out of the country, then I don't want to do this. I had never had anyone ask to go to France or Normandy, not one veteran. Soon as that came out of his mouth, I started having veterans contact me. Will you take me back to Normandy? I don't want to go back to Normandy.

Please take me back to Normandy. It was just constant, and I couldn't believe it. Well, that week, a gentleman contacted me. He didn't go to our church. And he said, will you have lunch with me? And I said, yes. So I went to lunch with him, and he said, well, I've heard that you're trying to take some of our veterans back to France. And I was like, how in the world do you know this? And he handed me a check for $100,000. And he said, you take our boys back to Normandy.

I thought, I have a sign. So we took our very first trip to Normandy in 2011. Oh, and as healing and as special as going to D.C. is, nothing compares to taking them back to where they fought. It hasn't changed there. It's not like being in America where everything's constantly changing. Normandy in Belgium, it's exactly the way it was. It's exactly the way it was during the war. We actually had a veteran find his foxhole.

I mean, that just would never happen here. But it happened there, just them being able to walk on Omaha Beach where they stormed it on June 6, 1944. And they had their comrades with them. So many of them had never talked about the war. But here they are together, and it would just flow out of them. So many of their children would say, I've learned more about my dad on this trip than I have living with him my whole life.

I've not been in combat. They're not going to share those kinds of things with me. But they will talk to one another.

And you would just see them over in a corner, and they would just be talking. And that's where a lot of the healing takes place. Taking them back to where they thought is healing, but taking them back together, there just aren't any words for it. And what a story you're hearing. It starts out with one woman's heart wanting to do something special for World War II veterans, taking them to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Pretty soon it turns into taking some vets to Normandy, to Omaha Beach. And a gentleman handing her a $100,000 check and saying, Take our boys to Normandy. Take them to Omaha Beach. The story of forever young veterans continues here on Our American Stories. Funds are insured up to $250,000.

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It's Diane Hite. Before every trip, I will pray. God, you know what these veterans need. I don't. Give it to them.

Whatever it is, give it to them. I've got a couple stories to tell you. One of the veterans, KT Hardwick, he went with us for the 70th anniversary. He was a POW. He got captured in the hedgerows.

He told me a story that just broke my heart, but he got captured by the SS. He said that they had stuffed him in a boxcar to take him by train to Germany, and they were stuffed so tight in there, they could not move. And if they needed to use the restroom, they had to soil themselves. They couldn't have water or food. He said if it rained, they would just try to get a raindrop on their tongue.

And he had suffered greatly. Sometimes people will say to me, How can you take these men back? I mean, isn't that a terrible thing to do to make them think about this?

And my answer is, they're thinking about it every single day. After he went back to Normandy with us for the 70th anniversary, he called me and he said, I have had nightmares about being a prisoner for 70 years. I would dream I was being tortured. I had terrible nightmares, terrible dreams.

But an interesting thing has happened. Now that I'm back, I am still dreaming. But instead of dreaming about being tortured, now I'm dreaming I'm coming home.

That's healing. That is one of my favorite wishes that we've granted because there is such a change in his life. And we also have one very similar from a vet that went back with us for the 75th anniversary. He said to me, I know people won't believe this, but every single morning when I wake up, the first thought I have is about D-Day.

This was 75 years. He said, I still dream about D-Day, think about D-Day. It's the first thing on my mind when I wake up every single morning.

After he came back from there, he said, you're not going to believe this, Diane. This is the first time in my life since the war that I wake up in the morning and I don't have D-Day on my mind. Taking them back does not make them think about it. Taking them back gives them closure.

We just see these miracles. Oh, this one just really touched me deeply. We were taking World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., and this lady called me and she said, my husband's a Vietnam veteran. He really needs to go on this trip.

And I said, well, this is all World War II, not that that matters. But I said, you know, we are going to be taking some Vietnam veterans on our next trip. Maybe he would rather go on this trip than take some Vietnam veterans.

Maybe he would rather go on that one. And she goes, no, no, please. She had such an urgency in her voice.

Please, he needs this. And it was only like a week before we left. And as you know, the airline tickets go up as it gets close. But I thought, she's just pretty much begging me.

I can't turn her away. You know, people are more important than money. And so we're just going to get him a ticket and he's coming. When you go on a trip, if you don't know how groups work, so for instance, if we have 50 people on our trip, we make arrangements with the restaurants and when we go there, they have 50 place settings. So we get to our restaurant at Union Train Station and we all sit down. There's an empty seat next to this Vietnam vet, which that just doesn't happen. And I was wondering, why is there an empty seat there? But I didn't say anything. It didn't matter.

Everyone had a seat. And then this man walked in and he introduced himself and he said, my dad is on your trip. And I went, oh, really? I said, I didn't know you were coming. He didn't tell me. He goes, oh, he doesn't know I'm here.

I just flew in from Arizona. He said, you know how you ask everyone to write letters to their loved one? And I was like, yes. And he said, you see, I couldn't write a letter to my dad. I haven't spoken to him in 15 years. And he said, I have flown here today because we'd given the schedule out to the family and so his mom had sent it to him. So he knew where we were. And he said, I have come here to ask his forgiveness. And I was like, oh, my gosh, there's an empty seat by him. And I said, he's right over there. Well, his dad was in this conversation to his left.

I mean, they were really talking. And so his son goes in and slips in that chair beside his dad. His dad didn't even notice because he was talking.

And then it seemed like forever. Finally, he looked to the right and he sees his son and they begin to cry. And in front of everyone, his son says, Dad, please forgive me.

It was just so emotional. And after we ate, his dad came up to me and he said, do you mind if I go and stay in his hotel room with him? And I said, of course not. Just be at this place tomorrow morning at a certain time. That's all you have to do.

But you all just enjoy each other tonight. And that changed this veteran's life. He's the one that was struggling so much. And look what God gave him, his son back. And it restored not only their relationship, but look what it did for their whole family.

We see God do all kinds of things, even simple things. One World War II veteran, he lived around Nashville and he would come visit his daughter in Memphis. And when he would get here, he would say to her, please take me to the Naval Air Station.

I just want to see if there's somebody there that has my ship on their hat. He so desperately wanted to talk to someone that had been on his ship. And she's thinking, oh, Dad, there's not going to be anybody there from your ship. But she would always take him.

Each time he visited, this would be repeated. Please take me to the Naval Air Station. Let me find someone from my ship, the USS Ranger.

Well, they were on our very first trip to Washington, DC in 09. And we get to the World War II Memorial, and who was there? But a sailor in his original uniform with the USS Ranger on his hat.

And it was the original hat where it's embroidered in it. And he saw that, and there wasn't anything that would have meant more to him than to find someone from his World War II ship. Just the joy of them being able to talk and be together, it was just such a beautiful thing to watch. And it was such a simple thing, but it meant everything to him. I do it for my dad. Being able to do this for him in a way as we bring healing and comfort to these veterans, I'm doing it for my dad.

And I think he's no longer remembered for being an alcoholic. Now my dad is being remembered for taking his suffering and helping bring healing to his comrades. It changes their families, it changes their communities, because so many of these men and women have never talked about it.

They start going to schools, they write books. We've had a lot of veterans write books that weren't even talking about it when they became a part of Forever Young Veterans. So we've seen healing take place. And so it's really changed my dad's legacy. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Diane Hite. And if you would like to help Forever Young Vets, go to foreveryoungvets.org to find out more. By the way, they're going to the 80th anniversary of D-Day next year. And from these stories, can you imagine the healing that will occur? Before every trip, I pray, God, you know what these veterans need.

I don't. Give it to them. And my goodness, did God give it to them.

Diane Hite's story, her dad's, and veterans everywhere who've seen battle, up close and personal, here on Our American Stories. Tis the season of making the perfect wish list and the perfect playlist with Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and headphones. Breakthrough immersive audio uses specialized sound to bring your fave holiday classics to life. And world-class noise cancellation ensures a not-so-typical silent night and an epic holiday party of warmth. It's everything music should make you feel taken to new holiday highs.

Visit bose.com forward slash iHeart this holiday season and shop sound that's more than just a present. How's your money feeling? It's about to feel happier with a certificate from Happy Money's partner, Alliant Credit Union. Elevate and increase your savings with 12-month terms and only a $1,000 minimum.

And the happiest part? Alliant certificates yield 5.25% APY annual percentage yield. Now that's a happier side of money. Elevate your savings. Go to happymoney.com slash alliant. That's A-L-L-I-A-N-T. Funds insured up to $250,000 by NCUA.

The APY is accurate as of the 11-1-20-23 dividend declaration date. Early withdrawal penalties do apply. Reduce earnings on the account.

Any monthly withdrawals or transfers reduce earnings. Sick of paying $100 for groceries and getting nothing but eggs, orange juice, and a paper bag? Then download the Drop app. Drop lets you earn points with your everyday shopping and redeem them for gift cards. Want a free dinner with those groceries? Drop it.

How about daily lattes? Drop it. So download Drop today and get $5 just for signing up. Use invite code GETDROP777. That's invite code GETDROP777.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-27 04:22:06 / 2023-12-27 04:35:33 / 13

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