The reality is that our WWII veterans’ population is rapidly declining, so I had to get on with this goal once and for all. I know I could have visited a VA hospital (or probably any nursing home) to meet a veteran. Why had I waited so long??
After racking my brain needlessly, I suddenly remembered that I used to work with a detective at LAPD who mentioned to me that he was in the South Pacific during WWII. BINGO! John O’Toole.
I tracked him down like a goal-oriented stalker. He’s now retired and in an assisted-living facility about 10 miles from me, even though he’s in excellent health and a still-youthful 85. He chooses to live there to be with his adored wife of 50+ years who needs care.
My husband and I spent a couple of hours chatting John up about his life experiences, including the war and his LAPD career. He charmed us with stories of how they did things old-school. John showed us some photo albums, which we visually devoured. The images as well as the imagery that John conjured in his tales… He was a living time capsule.
When we finally had to leave, it was hard to tell who had more fun that afternoon, my husband and I or John O’Toole. He was so welcoming, even though we were only acquainted through work back in 2002. We savored listening to his colorful memories of how life was for his generation. John even enthusiastically autographed my teenage son’s coffee table book about World War II that I “just so happened to bring.”
As we turned to leave, he held our hands and held our gaze with his smiling, twinkling eyes and said, “Hey. I just have to tell you both one thing. Enjoy your life. Just enjoy your life.”
I’m so glad I wrote this goal down here at 43Things or else I would have never taken the time to sit down with John O’Toole, World War II Veteran.
Here’s a link to a Los Angeles Times article from 2007, just before John retired.