“Those who serve supreme causes do not consider what they can get but what they can give”
Winston S. Churchill
By Sam Mabry
If you were not blessed by being a member of the Greatest Generation—those ordinary men and women, of great achievement, in extraordinary times, that forged the values and provided the training that made a people and a nation great—then the next best thing was to be raised and taught by them and to count many as your friends.
I had that privilege and my friend was, and always will be, Roger Neighborgall. Roger passed away at 93 years of age on his birthday, September 13th. The birth and passing dates may well be coincidental, but within their arch work of time there is an illustration of an admirable life lived.
Roger was always on the move, securing one beneficial objective and then on to another—always in motion, always forward, always for a cause or purpose bigger than himself.
From Indiana, to Duke to Omaha
Within a period of four of so short years, Roger left his home in Indiana, became a track star at Duke University—and then found himself on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, as an Army Ranger, ultimately climbing the shear side of Point du Hoc under withering German gun fire.
On the 60th Anniversary of the invasion, The Washington Post carried an article on Roger’s experiences.
“‘Every one of them (his team) got shot,” Neighborgall said. “‘The other plan was to shoot up a rope with a clawed end, but the Germans cut those down. The way you got up there was climbing.'”
“Soldiers were pushing and pulling themselves up as mortar fire and grenades rained on them, nasty little presents from an enemy who could not fire with handguns over the cliff lest Allied snipers pick them off,” according to Roger’s accounting in The Post article.
Roger, who went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart among many other recognitions of his bravery—including being decorated by the French Government for his dedication and sacrifice.
When I met Roger 30 years ago, he was still moving forward, still climbing over obstacles and still extending himself to others.
“This is Roger…”
The phone calls from Roger could come at just about anytime but the content and tone was usually the same. This person or that needed help. I was told where to be and when to be there. I went and I was on time.
Roger possessed at least two wonderful weaknesses: Kids and chocolate. If my grandchildren were about when he came over, they would be swept up in his arms and walked about the house, gleefully smiling and gurgling, understanding at some intuitive level they were in the arms of a “gift” that was carrying them. And you never left Roger’s house without something sweet to eat on the way out or to carry home.
Like so many of the Greatest Generation, Roger always placed results before process. Many of us particularly admired his salesmanship in convincing one of our business to “loan” him an operator and a piece of heavy equipment to clear an obstruction on a city located trail. His opposition to limiting the flying of the MIA flag continuously on the trail because it had “political” overtones was particularly admirable. What the “official” proctors of the bureaucratic processes in these instances did not understand, let alone appreciate, was that Roger and his generation always moved forward, pushing aside obstacles, because there was a beneficial objective that needed to be secured.
We’ll Never Have to Say a Final Goodbye to Roger
Roger came to see me a few short months ago. I looked out the window and there was this 92 year old man walking up to my door. We chatted for a good half hour and then we said our good byes. As he walked back to his car, a bit slow, but not unsteadily, I felt the warm and welcomed weight of having been given the gift of friendship offered by this unique man.
We love you Roger. We are insulated in some measure from your loss because you will always be with us. You have enhanced our lives indelibly by who you are and what you did. Even as we say goodbye to you, you are also, albeit in a different guise, sending us on our way with a bountiful collection of sweets.