Almost every Sunday for the past 24 years, a gentleman sat about five rows in front of me every Sunday at Maywood Baptist Church. I did not know him well. In fact, I am not sure I ever spoke to him directly.
I had always admired him because he was a veteran of World War II, and anyone who served during that time has a special place in my heart. This man, Julius Colvin, passed away last Sunday, and as I read his obituary I discovered that he had not only served in the military, he had been a medic during the Battle of the Bulge. I am a student of history and have actually been to the forested area in Belgium where the battle was fought. The Battle of the Bulge was the last big German offensive during the war and was the defining moment in the Allied victory.
I had another client whose father fought in the Battle of the Bulge and suffered hearing loss because of the extensive bombing. His son told me that every Christmas Day his father would stand and look out the window and say nothing as he obviously was remembering what he had experienced on Christmas Day 1944 when he was engaged in the most important battle of World War II.
“Band of Brothers,” the epic HBO series about Easy Company in the 101st Airborne Division from the landing at Normandy until the surrender of Germany gives extensive attention to this battle. The last episode took some of the surviving members of the company to the Bastogne Forest where some of the fiercest fighting occurred. I dare you to keep a dry eye while watching that. I can only imagine what Mr. Colvin and my client’s father must have endured.
My wife and I were eating lunch on Thursday, and a man walked into the restaurant wearing a jacket that bore an emblem that proudly stated that he was a veteran of World War II. He could barely walk, but as he went to his seat I could not help but think that his days were numbered. Those who fought in World War II are at least 90 years of age.
My parents graduated from high school during the war. My father acquired double pneumonia during infantry training and never served in Europe or Japan. Yet my parents were part of what has been called the Greatest Generation, and we are rapidly losing the survivors of what undoubtedly was the greatest generation of Americans.
The vanishing members of this generation include many lawyers who have practiced law during my lifetime. I had the privilege of working with and against some of those lawyers. Bill Sanders Sr. of the law firm of Blackwell Sanders is one of the great defense lawyers in the history of Kansas City, and I had a case against him. It was quite an experience. I had met some of the other legal stalwarts, including Lyman Fields and Jim Benjamin.
I also include the father of my partner of 19 years, Gene Graham Sr. He belongs in that hall of fame of great lawyers who were in the greatest generation. Gene Graham Sr. was a very gifted lawyer and a veteran of World War II. I had the privilege of working with him as co-counsel on a case. I went to lunch with him a few times when we were working on the case, and I always felt like I was in the presence of greatness when I was with him.
My former partner, Mike Manners, had the privilege of working together on a couple of big cases including one involving the Getty Oil dealer who operated the gas station at Maple and Spring in Independence. Mike and Gene Sr. represented Arlo Essex, who sued Getty Oil for fraud. Essex claimed that he was induced to enter into an oil station lease by a representation by the company’s territorial agent that he could keep the station as long as performed satisfactorily.
The oil company terminated the lease on short notice and could not prove that Essex was performing unsatisfactorily. Gene Sr. and Mike obtained a verdict in excess of $2 million, which was a very high verdict in the early ’90s.
Getty was represented by lawyers from Shook Hardy & Bacon, the largest law firm in Kansas City. Two very skillful lawyers took on the big giant and ultimately won. Mike will tell you today that he learned so much from this great attorney.
At Gene’s funeral, Mike told my favorite Gene Graham story. Mike and I were representing the city of Sugar Creek at a time when the city was trying to regulate blasting in the quarries. The largest mining was done by Missouri Portland.
The city ultimately passed what may been the first blasting ordinance in the country. We were in the Mike Onka Hall, and it was filled to capacity with residents who were upset with Missouri Portland. At one point, someone arose and claimed that we were wasting our time trying to stop this giant company because they had the best lawyers and lots of money. An older lady immediately popped up and proudly proclaimed that the city needed to hire her lawyer, Gene Graham because “he fears no man.”
Gene Graham Sr. was in the Greatest Generation. His epitaph that he feared no man could be said of many in this generation. As that generation ends, I often wonder how history will treat the next generation, the Baby Boomers. We had huge steps to follow, and we still have time to work on our epitaph.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org