I met an older gentleman in my travels last week - just started a conversation with him in my new quest to be better at initiating conversations with strangers, in honor of my grandfather, 99 years young, who I was visiting in Florida, and who has always been an expert in that arena.
This man I spoke to seemed to be of the right age, so I asked, "Did you by any chance serve in WWII?" He said, "Of course I did - 4 years in fact, including 4 weeks after the war was over. Four long weeks."
This eventually lead to my confession that I had an ulterior motive of sorts in asking. I've been working on a WWII themed screenplay and am always interested to learn more from people who were actually there. Wherever there was. As it turned out this man had done his basic training at a base in Ohio in which there had been German prisoners of war. Later, while he was serving Over There, he met a German girl whose husband had been captured and made a POW. This man had, it turned out, been sent to the same camp in Ohio - so it was possible my new friend had even met her husband.
Even more interesting, and timely again, was how he also told me he'd seen a concentration camp near the end, which had bodies both living and dead. I said, "I can't imagine, can't imagine ever forgetting such a thing." He just shook his head, lost in that time again, not saying anything for a few moments. Then he said, "What I'll never forget is the smell. God, the smell. I still remember how it smells, even now."
I didn't ask him to elaborate further.
Despite the man's age and his lack of hearing, he surprised me by asking if he could follow me and my script's progress on the internet, so I gave him my name and e-mail address and asked him to wish me well.