Harry Jack Wood, 85, spent Veterans Day getting patched up at the Veterans Administration hospital.

His military service may have ended six decades ago, but the benefits, they just keep on coming.

A few weeks ago, Harry took a fall and sliced open his lower lip. The doctors at the V.A. stitched it up, and yesterday they took out the stitches.

Wearing a snappy Panama hat and a mock crew T-shirt, Harry looked trim, fit and happy as he left the hospital accompanied by his wife, Rose, and son, Ken.

Maybe not quite as trim and fit as the day he invaded the beaches of Normandy, but close.

Sixty-four years ago, on June 9, 1944, he hit the French coastline as part of a battalion of reinforcements that arrived three days after the initial D-Day invasion when nearly 200,000 Allied troops ran head-on into German strongholds.

Behind all those lead blockers, Harry's infantry unit made its way several kilometers inland where it became embroiled in a custody battle over a French town. During one of the German surges, Harry was captured and taken prisoner. He spent the rest of the war, about a year, incarcerated. Not until the Nazis surrendered in May of 1945 was Harry free again. He's been free ever since.

"Thank you for winning the war," I said with a Veterans Day handshake.

Harry was rendered momentarily speechless.

"OK," he finally managed.

That was followed by "Well, I didn't win it."

That's what they all say.

Harry grew up in Detroit, which is where he relocated after he came home from the war. He moved his family to Utah in 1970 and hasn't budged since.

After retiring from a career as a music store salesman and manager, he's gotten to know the V.A. hospital on the east bench of Salt Lake City more and more intimately than he would prefer.

"Overall, Dad's health has been great, and for 85, he's doing pretty

good," his son said. "But over time, he's had more reasons to come up here. He's developed some arthritis, some macular degeneration, he's had a few falls."

And he has a recurring history of stomach ailments.

"His stomach has bothered him ever since the war," Ken said. "He went through a lot of stress back then."

But Harry has never whined about it — then or now.

"He's told me that one of the greatest moments in his life, if not the greatest moment, was his service in the war," Ken said. "As far as contributions to society, he's never been more proud of anything he's done."

Four years ago, when the World War II Memorial was opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Harry and Ken were there front and center for the dedication ceremonies.

"It was a dream of his to see that completed," Ken said.

And while it is no dream to visit the hospital, it serves as a sort of memorial itself.

On the one hand the visits are a constant reminder to the aging World War II vets that they are getting older.

But they're also constantly being reminded of their contributions to America.

"I was up here the other day getting a prescription filled at the pharmacy while my dad was seeing the doctor," Ken said. "The pharmacist handed me the prescription and said, 'Would you please thank him for me.' That happens all the time. He's always getting praised."

"No one wants to go to the hospital," Ken continued. "But every time Dad comes up here they treat him like he's a very important someone."

That's what you get for winning the war.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.