66-year-old Stan Wielezynski is a big guy with gentle eyes. He and his family came to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago. His mother was a member of the French resistance and hailed from Normandy. In the office of his restaurant is a photo of the D-Day beaches where he played as a child.
Friday was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing, when Allies pushed into German-occupied France at great risk, cost, and purpose. To their credit, many of the networks ran hard with the 70th anniversary story, knowing that survivors from D-Day are in short supply. NBC’s Brian Williams followed a number of veterans back to Normandy, recalling their stories while revisiting places unseen by them for decades. They were emotional vignettes, and largely done well.
The story I planned for D-Day was a profile of a man whom veterans recently honored. Columbus restaurant owner Stan Wielezynski was mentioned in a newspaper article weeks ago, when he was presented the French National Order of Merit…an award for service to France which comes with the rank of knight. I wanted to hear this man’s voice. Hear his story. So I went to talk with him:
His story is compelling, mostly because of his reverence to the veterans who ultimately lobbied for this knighthood.
A fitting aside to Stan’s story is that my profile of him (sans music, as in the version above) aired nationally on Here and Now. Hopefully people across the country could hear the genuineness in Stan’s voice, and maybe think about his words and actions honoring veterans.
I have seen French respect for veterans before. One November I was honored to attend a marking of the Armistice, at an intersection of a small French village.
Standing upon the stone sidewalks of a decaying French village is jarring because of its immortality–this village has looked more or less the same for decades. The moss on roofs and walls is perhaps thicker, the chips in paint are perhaps more noticeable, but a World War soldier marching through this land with a heavy rucksack and soggy boots would still recognize this place...
As I have written, “I’m not a pacifist…I’m a realist, and war is scary.” Since more deeply studying International Relations (the use of the term ‘realist’ aside) I better see the complexity of employing ‘hard and soft’ power.
The thing about honoring veterans, though, is that it is not necessarily any endorsement of their particular theater of operations. Honoring veterans is about recognizing that individual…that fellow human being…who put his or her life between you and a bullet. War is not often as clear cut an engagement of ‘good guys and bad guys.’ That shouldn’t stop us from thanking veterans for their service. In fact our thanks should be given independent of the politics.
I think that’s a point Stan wanted to make. And I hope my profile of him helped convey his passion.