When I awoke to the news that CBS’s “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney had passed away I was truly saddened. I thought back to each Sunday night when I awaited his turn on the weekly news show. But mainly it took me back to the day when I got to meet Mr. Rooney.
I was living in Dana at the time and we were celebrating the new additions to Ernie Pyle’s museum and Mr. Rooney was to be in our small town to help with the new dedication. Mr. Rooney had been a close friend of Ernie’s and came to town as a friend who wanted to pay respects to a lost friend.
From all I’ve read about Mr. Rooney, he didn’t like doing things like that and always turned them down. He did it because he was a great friend of Ernie’s.
To say that I knew Mr. Rooney as a friend is stretching things a bit, but I did get to meet him that afternoon and that has stuck in my mind as a day when I got to meet an idol of mine. Even though it was brief, it stands out in my mind as one of my best ever.
I can still remember as I approached him how nervous I had gotten, and could even feel the sweat beads building up around the back of my neck. Finally the lady in front of me had shook his hand and moved on. It was now my turn.
Mr. Rooney stretched out his aged hand and shook mine. I introduced myself and got to tell him my Ernie Pyle story. I told him how Ernie had gotten his first newspaper job at my home town of LaPorte, and that I was now working as a sportswriter and lived in Ernie’s hometown.
Mr. Rooney looked me over for a couple of seconds, that felt like hours, and he finally spoke, “Write about what you know. It irritates me when writers write about things they know nothing about.”
That was it. He turned from me and went to greet the farmer and old WWII vet that was in the line behind me, and as I watched him talk to the old vet I could see that he was truly interested. He asked the man from Illinois where he saw action, what division he was with, and how long was he there.
As I watched in awe, it struck me that he really did care about his fellow vets and not just his friend Ernie Pyle. I watched several times as he would greet the people in line, only long enough to say hello and move the line along, that is until he came to another veteran.
One more thing I remember about that day, one lady asked Mr. Rooney did he believe that he had been a true veteran because he was just a writer for “Stars and Stripes.” the Army newspaper that every soldier looked forward to reading?
Mr. Rooney didn’t get to answer the question because there were two WWII veterans in line behind her awaiting their turn, and they both stepped up and proudly said, “We would trust Mr. Rooney in our foxhole any day.” The lady kinda of huffed as she turned away.
I watched as Mr. Rooney shook their hands and smiled. I turned and walked away, but before I walked out of the tent, I looked back and Mr. Rooney was still talking to the two veterans who came to his defense.
When it was announced that he would make his last appearance on “60 Minutes” a few weeks ago, I made sure that I stopped everything that I was doing to watch. I even made sure I had a blank DVD in my player and I taped his last bit.
I did the same thing when they played a final tribute to Mr. Rooney. As a tear tolled down my cheek, it made me think, someday in the near future we are going to say goodbye to our last WWII veteran.
Since meeting Mr. Rooney I have written two books on WWII, “Sometimes You Can’t Hide,” and “I Was There When It Happened,” and I’ve sent two children into war, my son and my daughter, along with several cousins and friends. It has changed the way I think about war and it will stay with me for as long as I shall live. I hope that he would have thought that I did write something that I knew a little about. His memory will always stay in my mind for the rest of my life.
I hope and pray that we never forget what our soldiers and men and women like Mr. Rooney have done so that we may be free. War affects everyone, the soldiers, the families, and even our country.
A writer once said, “Lose your grandparents, you lose your past, lose your children and you lose your future.” Please remember, our soldiers are our future. Take the time to remember all of our fallen veterans, and let the ones who came back know you appreciate what they did for us.
— Jimmy Beasley Sr.