This holiday finds me a bit retrospective. The meaning of the day often gets lost in the picnics, pool-parties, barbecues, boat outings, and family gatherings that go hand-in-hand with a three-day weekend. I always take some time to reflect, remember, and honor those who have made it possible for me to live in this wonderful country with the freedoms that I have.
My grandfather on the mother’s side served proudly in the Pacific during World War II. He was a long-time Merchant Marine who found himself in San Francisco the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Upon hearing the news, he went straight to the Navy recruiting office and signed up. He left his wife and newborn son behind to serve and protect our country and our way of life. I remember him telling me he was angry that we had been attacked, and he felt he needed to do his part.
He was awarded a Purple Heart and bore the scar on his stomach where he was shot. He would show us grandkids his scar now and then. It looked like a second belly button, and we grandkids thought it funny that he had a second belly button. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the seriousness of his war wound. He also lost a good part of his hearing, the result of being too close to an explosion, and I never knew him without hearing aids. He served his country with pride. When he passed in the mid-80’s, we honored him with an honor guard and a tombstone which reflects his service in the Navy and his rank. He was especially proud that he was not an officer. He always saw himself as an every-man, and he would say that most of the officers we jerks (although he did once confess that he had a few friends who were officers, with a twinkle in his eye.)
My other grandfather was one of four or five boys (my memory is foggy on this one,) who drew straws to see who would go to war. They were afraid that no one would be there to care for their mother or families if they all were to die in the war. He drew the short straw and stayed behind to take care of his mother and his brother’s families. He was proud to serve in that way.
One of my grandfathers had a brother who died in the war. I can’t remember which one, and I don’t really have anyone to ask. I think it was the mother’s father, but I can’t be certain.
Ironically, both of my grandfathers were raised without fathers. They both had a fierce sense of honor and family.
The father who raised me served in the Army during the brief period of “peace” between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. He eventually landed on Guam, where if I recall correctly, he was the company clerk. “Kind of like Radar,” I was told when the TV show MASH was popular. We hear they had a really good time on Guam. I never heard him speak much about that time. When his four years were up, he returned to the states, got a job, married, etc.
I learned two years back that my biological father was in the Air Force. He was a medic. I don’t have a lot of details, and I’m not sure if he served during wartime. I think he spent most of his time in Alaska. My aunt his sister, sent me his Air Force photo for Christmas two years ago. It’s a wonderful photo of a young, handsome man who I never knew. The only photo I’ve ever seen of him.
I have friends and acquaintances who have served our country over the years, both in war time and peace. I recall hearing that a number of boys I grew up with served during Desert Storm. Timing is everything, and we were the right age for them to go. I recall at the time the mother telling me, “Every generation has been in a war.”
To all the men and women who have served our country, to all who have given the ultimate sacrifice, a simple thank you does not suffice. I am humbled and forever thankful for your service to ensure our freedom.