Veterans Day is observed every year on Nov. 11 to thank and honor military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
After serving his country with honor for 30 years, a retired Green Beret is now serving his community as a volunteer at Mayo Clinic.
And as Jason Howland reports, this American appreciates life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness every day — for good reason.
Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (4:17) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy: “Mayo Clinic News Network.” Read the script.
Millions of patients, families and visitors journey to Mayo Clinic for hope and healing — each with their own unique life story. Kurt, an 80-year-old Mayo Clinic volunteer, has a life story you need to hear.
“I was born in Stimmersdorf, which was within the Nazi-occupied territory of the Czech Republic,” Kurt says.
In 1943, when Kurt was still an infant, his father was forced by the Nazis to fight for the German army on the Eastern Front, as Kurt and his mother were sent to the concentration camps.
“The one soldier said, ‘Leutnant, ich habe zwei Juden hier. (Lieutenant, I’ve got two Jews here.)’ And we were sent to Auschwitz,” Kurt says.
A year later, sent to Dachau. As the Allies approached in spring of ’45, Kurt and his mother were quickly being transported by the Nazis to another camp when the train derailed. They survived the crash and escaped.
“We kept going and kept going until we couldn’t hear any more dogs barking, screaming, shooting,” he says.
They spent 16 weeks on the run avoiding capture until the war ended. “We had to live off the land, so to speak,” Kurt says.
Meanwhile, Kurt’s father was a prisoner of the Soviets. “Trains would come from Russia and bring home POWs,” he says.
And during Hanukkah 1949 at the train station, “… it was the worst, coldest winter ever recorded. We heard a faint voice, ‘Ester, bist du das? (Ester is that you?)’ We turned around, it was my father,” Kurt says.
In 1956, the family immigrated to the U.S. “And we saw the Statue of Liberty,” he says.
They settled in Albany, New York. And as a young man at 18, Kurt became an American. “Tears came down my cheek, and I was so happy,” he says.
And he joined the Army.
“I wanted to give back, and I served. It was the only way I could thank this great country called the United States of America and the American people for having allowed me to come here,” Kurt says.
He served a 30-year military career in the Army Special Forces as a Green Beret. “Freedom is such a powerful word,” Kurt says.
He is reminded every day what freedom truly means. “Freedom gives you hope,” he says.
“They gave me my life back. He spent as much time with me as possible, and I know with him, I was always in the best of hands,” Kurt says.
It inspired Kurt to move to Rochester, Minnesota, and volunteer at Mayo Clinic.
“Monday through Friday, usually from 6:45 a.m. to 11 o’clock,” he says. “This was the perfect opportunity. I knew there were patients coming through here, military people coming through here that I can relate to — not only talk to these people, but uplift their spirits, and instill in them that there is hope, that they’re in the right place.”
“Positive attitude, sunshine in the heart, and I use the gray matter God put between my ears to spread the joy, the happiness and goodwill, so to speak. This is why I’m supposed to be here,” Kurt says. “America gave me freedom, hope. Mayo Clinic did the same thing.”