September 11, 2011
Robert Altman is an American hero.
Yes, he is my great-uncle and yes, I am biased, but it is still true.
He was a belly gunner and radio operator on a B-17 bomber in the Army Air Corps (precursor to today's US Air Force) in World War II. Responding to our nation's call to fight the forces of evil that threatened us as a nation, he and his brothers (one of whom was my grandfather) all volunteered to risk their lives for their country.
Robert was captured by Japanese forces and spent three long and excruiating years of torture, starvation, and mis-treatment as a Japanese POW.
The odds were against him, but he survived.
I would occasionally write him on the annual holidays where we celebrate our veterans and the sacrifices they made for us. He would always respond in an articulate and beautifully handwritten letter with a gentless and humilty that belied his selfless heroism of volunteering to risk his life for America.
I remember he once told me shortly after 9/11 in response to one of my cards to him, that he and his brothers had set off to war with a purpose and mission to fight the war so that perhaps their children and grandchildren might not have to fight anymore wars. While that wasn't the case (we human beings always manage to find ourselves fighting wars it seems) the sentiment amazes me still.
What an awesome legacy—sacrificing so much for the chance that others would have a better and more peaceful life.
He chose to not have a funeral service, chosing to quietly depart from this earth. I am not sure of his reasons, but it does seem in line with the quiet, unassuming manner in which he conducted his life—putting others first, minimizing his importance, a quiet and gentle spirit. I only wish that I could have known him better, hear more of his stories, tell him that I loved him and appreciated him one last time.
Uncle Robert's life will always be an inspiration to me and his legacy will live on as my children and God-willing grand-children, grow to know of his story and sacrifice.