A quiet hero

Published 1:40 pm Saturday, February 27, 2016

by Chuck Lilley

Recently a Franklin citizen and World War II survivor of the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion at Normandy, France was put to rest. During the funeral service at Franklin Baptist Church, the solemnity of “Taps” stirred warm memories among a teary-eyed audience. To some, the funeral service was a soothing celebration of a life well-lived. To others, the temporary goodbye offered the promise of a delayed, permanent reunion.

Prior to his passing, James Allen Minetree, Jr., was among the six-hundred thousand surviving U.S. veterans of World War II. Sadly their numbers are rapidly diminishing. Some six-hundred per day are currently interred with the ground they fought so valiantly to save. Stephen Ambrose and Tom Brokaw are two better-known authors whose stories eloquently brought to light the immeasurable humility, sacrifice and bravery of these heroes. Their flair for improvisation within a flexible structure of teamwork trumped the pat hand of tyranny with the royal flush of freedom. Any self-promoting thoughts of me were practically subordinated for the greater good of we, an inherent philosophy within the successful post World Was II economy-future generations take note.

The funeral audience would learn the specifics of Allen Minetree’s D-Day experience from the moving recollections which he had penned in 1994. His words, “no one seemed to cry out when they were hit,” spoke to the universally admired qualities Duty, Honor,Country that have helped define his Generation. Allen, a twice-wounded, highly-decorated Army rifleman, in un­ Kadashian-like prose, omitted references to his Four Bronze Stars, his Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, or his Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster. Instead he wrote of the heroics of First Lieutenant Jimmy W. Monteith and of his Platoon Sergeant Wells, both of whom were killed in action and were awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.

The funeral audience chuckled when hearing of an earlier telephone call by Allen to author Stephen Ambrose to “correct the record” after Ambrose’s novel, “Band of Brothers” was published. Ambrose, respectful of D-Day sacrifices and post-war veteran allegiances, graciously responded with a personal tour of the National World War II museum in New Orleans, which he had founded.

Beyond his written D-Day recollections, and similar to many World War II veterans who wrestled with survivor guilt, Allen spoke haltingly of his wartime experiences. However on one occasion he did concede to his beloved, downtown morning coffee group that the horrific D-Day landing scenes within the film, Saving Private Ryan were “pretty close to the way things were.”

If a man is measured by the company he keeps, by the friends he makes, and by the love he sustains, then Allen Minetree’s earthly record will remain beyond reach. This quiet, unassuming man, when confronted with the withering fire of German tyranny, answered his nation’s call and performed with unimaginable grace and courage. He was among the fortunate’to survive World War II combat, and later while supported by a wonderful family, moved forward with a life of purpose.

A final “Taps” to Allen Minetree, the gentle hero so many were so blessed to know.

CHUCK LILLEY is a guest columnist for The Tidewater News. He can be reached at chuck.lilley@gmail.com