Back in 2009, I had the very good fortune of meeting St. Joseph resident Larry Tillemans. I was researching a column about WWII veterans and was introduced to Larry. I was able to spend some time with him and hear his stories and let me tell you they were exciting. I wrote a column about Larry, which was published in the Newsleaders back in 2009 entitled “A Witness To History.”
At the close of World War II, Larry was an Army stenographer/clerk typist whose job was to record the testimony during the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals. He sat in the courtroom and witnessed the Nazi thugs being tried for their war crimes. During our visits, he also reminded me of the time when Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, first saw the Nazi prison camps and the gas chambers. He told me how Eisenhower called for photographers and reporters to record the camps in detail. He wanted a complete record of everything he saw. He didn’t want the world ever to forget the atrocities that lay before him. This was the Holocaust.
After Larry got out of the Army, he became an activist. He decided to take Eisenhower’s orders seriously. He made it his life’s mission never to let the world forget the Holocaust. He made up pamphlets and CDs. He spoke to groups, entertaining and teaching them. Larry had had a front-row seat to history. He looked into the eyes of the Nazi monsters as they squirmed in their chairs and as they tried to explain away their murderous activities. He decided to spend his life keeping this story alive and vivid.
I choose to revisit Larry Tillemans today because, like so many WWII veterans, he is not getting any younger. In 2009 when I wrote that column, I spoke about the fact we are losing these heroes everyday. Soon there will be none left.
Will the horrors Larry and his fellow soldiers witnessed be forgotten when those good men have all gone to their reward? Will the devastation leveled by one dictator and his henchmen against the rest of the world just disappear with the witnesses? Already some schools are removing the Holocaust from their curricula. Some Middle Eastern dictators are claiming the whole thing was a fraud and it never happened. Eisenhower was right when he proclaimed, sure enough, someday down the road some SOB (his words) would say it never happened. You see ugliness like the Holocaust is just not very politically correct.
But enough about the tyrants and despots of the world. We need to celebrate the heroes, the veterans and especially the WWII veterans. We celebrate Larry Tillemans and people of his ilk. The people who sacrificed their limbs, their lives and their security so we might have the lives we have had. So we might have the freedoms we enjoy. When this country needed them and made the call, they came by the thousands and the tens of thousands. They stopped the Nazi murderers in their tracks and made our world a safer place to be.
Here during this time of celebration of veterans I ask you to remember them. When you breathe free air, think of them. When you swell with pride hearing a patriotic song or view “Old Glory,” think of them. If you have a chance, visit a veteran and thank him or her for the life you get to live.
God bless Larry Tillemans and all veterans.