Like a cricket for instance.
My family walked into the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Sunday. The first thing we noticed when we walked through the doors was a giant plane suspended from the ceiling. The Douglas C-47 had the same paint scheme it would have worn on D-Day. It was an impressive display.
Then we saw a much smaller display — an older man (who was probably well into his 80′s) sitting behind a small table. He beckoned us over and asked my sons, “You boys know what a cricket is, don’t you?”
My boys stood there quietly for a second, trying to figure out what the trick was to his question. As the standoff continued, I noticed an 82nd Airborne pin on his collar.
“You were in the 82nd Airborne?” I asked. I knew he had jumped out a plane similar to the one above us.
“I’m still in the 82nd Airborne,” he quickly replied with a grin. He then focused his attention back to my sons.
“So, you boys know what a cricket is?”
My middle son replied , “A bug?”
The volunteer smiled and said, “Yes. But it is much more. Imagine you’ve jumped into Normandy on D-Day. It’s night and a man comes toward you. You have to find out if he is friend or foe. You can’t just ask him. So you take this out and do this.”
He pulled out a small brass device and clicked it once.
“You’re separated, hungry and nervous. You’re lost. You need to find your friends. And if he is one of your friends, he will do this.”
He then clicked the clicker twice. The little device made a sound that sounded like a mechanical cricket.
“Now, what happens if he doesn’t reply?”
My son said, “You shoot him?”
The volunteer said matter-of-factly, “Yes, you kill him before he kills you.”
My sons all held the cricket and clicked it themselves. As they did, they could see the man in front of them jumping out of that giant plane. They walked a mile in his paratrooper boots. They understood D-Day a little better. He morphed from a senior citizen into a hero.
We toured the museum and were impressed by the big exhibits. We loved the B-17 Flying Fortress and the Sherman tank. And the Tom Hanks 4-D movie was amazing. But it was the little things that gripped us: The last letter written by a Marine on the day he was killed. The Kbar knife with a bullet hole in the handle (that saved a Marine’s life). The telegram informing a mother that she had lost her precious son. The oral histories of how average Americans coped during the war. Two actual Medals of Honor. Hattiesburg Medal of Honor recipient Jack Lucas’ wallet. The display of soldiers that showed how few troops the U.S. had at the beginning of World War II compared to Japan and Germany.
Five hours later, we walked out and the hero had gone home. I know we’ll probably never see him again. But for a brief moment, a World War 2 paratrooper and his cricket allowed us to understand history a little better.
Because it really is the little things that make the biggest impressions.