Two Wars, Two Veterans, Two Stories, One Friendship

2016-04-13-1460566196-4125755-JohnatRedCarpet.png

During the past few years I became quite close to two veterans.

One is a World War II veteran. The other is a Vietnam War veteran.

The World War II veteran, John Tschirhart -- "the French-American" -- recently celebrated his 95th birthday.

Readers may remember him, as I have written extensively about him and about his patriotic and romantic pursuits while flying as a B-17 bombardier over Nazi-occupied Europe.

John was "only" 90 when I first met him and we immediately bonded.

I met John just a couple of months ago.
He told me he was of French descent. That, I believed immediately.
He also told me he was 90 years old. That, I could hardly believe.
He then told me his life story. I could say "unbelievable," but that would be an understatement.
As will become apparent, the story of John Tschirhart is one that you would only expect to see in a compelling, haunting movie about romance, amour, passion and heartbreak; about war, suffering, intrigue, spies and heroism and, yes, perhaps some stronger stuff, too, but we'll keep this one PG-13.

It was truly "A Veteran's Story Made for Hollywood," but it has taken many years and many disappointments before his story would have the chance to appear on the "silver screen."

Then, two years ago, Denver-based Film It Productions' Darla Rae learned about Tschirhart's story and immediately fell in love with it -- and with John.

The planning and the work to bring John's story -- a story he has carried and treasured for more than 70 years -- to the big screen in a feature film finally started in earnest.

The name of the film? You guessed it, "The French American."

However, in addition to the challenges of raising funds and signing up investors to produce the movie, there would be setbacks.

A major one occurred when a simple fall a year ago sent John Tschirhart to the hospital where he encountered complications and at times fought for his life.

Although frail at 95 and although his memory is not as sharp as before, John is well aware of the ongoing pre-production activities of his movie, his life story.

Last week, at his assisted living community in Austin, Texas, John was treated to a "Red Carpet Event" complete with red carpet, applause, tributes and the viewing of a trailer of The French American.

Sharply dressed in his U.S. Air Force uniform, Major John Tschirhart made us all proud of him and thankful for his service and for his Greatest Generation. (Below - Photo by author))

2016-04-13-1460566281-5957683-JohnatRedeCarpet.JPG

We still need to keep John in our prayers, so that he may finally see his lifetime dream come true when The French American appears on a screen near us.

But prayers -- of a different kind -- are also in order for my second veteran friend.

You see, Vietnam War veteran Allen Winfred Hancock Jr. died unexpectedly three weeks ago, just four days after celebrating his 62nd birthday.

He passed away at his small house in the Texas Hill Country, a house that had finally become home for him for what would be the last few peaceful years of his life.

Young Hancock left the military after serving aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon during the Vietnam War, where he received a leg injury. The CGC Mellon's mission was to maintain close surveillance over 1,200 miles of Vietnamese coastline. As part of this mission, the Mellon conducted numerous naval gunfire support and rescue operations along with medical civic action and training programs for Vietnamese military personnel.

Hancock, the crew and the ship received several awards for their actions, but Hancock modestly maintained, "I was just down in the engine room on a ship... I can imagine what the 'ground pounders' went through."

Hancock would encounter many challenges after leaving the Coast Guard in 1975, not the least of which was a serious motorcycle accident in 2011 resulting in above-knee amputation of his left leg.

But relative peace would come to him when, thanks to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4443 in Austin, Texas, and thanks to the hard work of many volunteers, Hancock was able to move into a specially adapted rental home on the beautiful Texas Hill Country grounds of the Post.

The installation of a special wheelchair ramp and a chain link fence by volunteer groups contributed to making Allen's final years as peaceful and comfortable as possible -- time he spent with his loyal companion, a dog named "Tonto."

Members of Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA) Chapter 23-7 stand by disabled Vietnam War veteran Allen Hancock after installing a chain link fence surrounding the veteran's property. (Photo courtesy CVMA)

Allen has left us now and is in a much better place. However, left behind are the headaches, red tape and expenses involved with taking care of the final affairs, expenses and funeral arrangements, especially when the person upon whom these responsibilities suddenly fall is in dire financial straits herself.

Such is the case with Cris, Allen's niece, who also lost her own mother exactly one month before losing her uncle, and now faces the almost insurmountable financial and emotional tasks of taking care of both tragedies.

Should readers want to help her out -- no matter in what small way -- please go to Cris' GoFundMe site here.

As Cris quotes, "First John 3:17 'But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?'"

Allen's final wishes were to be buried with his beloved father, Allen W. Hancock. Hancock Sr. served in the Philippines during World War II, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, forced to march in the tortuous "Bataan Death March" and spent an equally tortuous 44 months as a prisoner of war in Japan.

May both Rest in Peace.

Lead photo: John Tschirhart arriving at Red Carpet. (With permission)