I’ve been enjoying the company of the Gentleman’s Coffee Club every Friday for over three months now. I'm 40 years old and the youngest one at this table of veterans. I always arrive at Starbucks later than the others and take whatever space is left.

For the last several weeks, that space has been next to 96-year-old World War II veteran Gerold Lamers. More than once I’ve asked him if he’d care to share his story.

“Nobody wants to read about me,” he’d say.

I had to smile at the way he was true to the Greatest Generation, having helped save the world and then shrugging it off as though he'd done nothing special.

But I knew he'd survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and as witnesses to that event are passing on, I thought I’d ask him one more time for his story. He warned me that his memory wasn’t what it once was, but he’d tell me what he could.

He served in the Navy Medical Corps and recalled a lot of gunfire at Pearl Harbor as he helped doctors work on patients. “You went where the action was. You protect your ass to start with. You did what you could.”

[Related: My darkest day in Afghanistan]

I felt inadequate for the interview. Perhaps a more experienced reporter would have known what questions to ask or how to draw Lamers’ stories from him. I merely asked how he felt about the attack.

“You knew the war was on. If you didn’t win, they’d invade our country. You want the U.S. to go on forever,” he said.

One of the reasons I wanted to hear from Lamers was because in addition to having served at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he also had served south of Tokyo on Aug. 9, 1945, where he saw “sort of a red-orange colored ball about 20 miles north.”

He was there for the beginning of America’s involvement in the war, and he saw the atomic fireball rising over Nagasaki that ended it.

“When you first saw it, you wondered what it was. Then you heard it. We knew when we saw the smoke from that bomb that if it fell on Tokyo, there wouldn’t be any Tokyo left. You don’t ever forget a thing like that.”

He offered me a powdered sugar doughnut as he often did at the coffee club, and I was amazed at how casual he could be, talking about the significant historical moments he had witnessed. But then, I supposed, having lived with the memory of such events for three-quarters of a century, some of the awe I felt about them must have diminished in him.

“Did it feel good when the war was over?” I immediately felt like an idiot for asking the question.

Lamers laughed. “Certainly. They were using real bullets, you know.”

Finally, I asked what I had so often wanted to ask as I’d enjoyed my time with World War II veterans. “How do you feel having helped save the world?”

Lamers thought for a moment. “I don’t think I had that feeling at all. I was taking care of my family. My state. My country.”

He spoke with the same warm tone he always used, too even and natural to be anything but sincere. He was 96 years old, but Lamers had seen more history in four years than most of us would see in our entire lives. Like the rest of the men in the coffee club, he doesn’t seem to think this makes him special. I respectfully disagree.

After the war, Lamers became a dentist, and at the end of our interview, he repeated one of his favorite jokes. “Then I was down in the mouth a lot.”

I smiled, both for the joke and for the honor of knowing such a man.

Trent Reedy served as a combat engineer in the Iowa National Guard from 1999 to 2005, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.