Monday, May 25, 2009

In Memoria

I'm sure everybody and their brother have a memorial day post up, but I'm adding one anyway :P

I don't know very much about my grandfathers, but I know that they both served in WWII. On memorial day this year my thoughts turned to what I do and don't know about them. What really unites their service is that neither would talk about it. The living veterans may not have given their entire lives to our country, but they still have given a part of their life, a part of their soul.

I'll start with my paternal grandfather. He died when my father was 12, so I never met him. To me he is a collection of stories and a face in pictures. I don't remember if he was injured in service or not, but I do remember he joined the army late in the war and didn't see as much combat as others. When he came home, he was drafted as a pro baseball player (something he had dreamt of before the war), however he ended up declining the position in order to spend more time with my grandmother and to start a family. He died of a heart attack, leaving my grandmother a widow in her late 30s, with 4 children. They didn't have lipitor back then. It was a blessing, then, that he decided to spend more time with his family than being a ball player on the road would have allowed. I have inherited a lot of his looks, although my personality and hair are more like my grandmother's than his (I doubt anyone would mistake me for a blonde!). I also did not inherit his high cholesterol, although my own dad did. In a final act of kindness, we later learned that before his death, he left instructions and money with some of his military contacts, and these contacts kept my uncle from Vietnam (my father would have missed a draft due to his age when the war ended, although instructions were in place for him, as well). He didn't know when or how, but he knew war would come again and he did everything in his power to keep his sons from it. Sometimes, when I think of how I almost joined ROTC for college, I think that it would have put me straight in Afghanistan or Iraq. I like to think that his spirit helped me make the decision not to join, a decision that, at the time, was very uncharacteristic of me.

My maternal grandfather disappeared from my mother's life when she was 2, leaving my 20 year old grandmother for a younger "woman" (I, however, think 15 hardly counts). I don't really talk (or think) about him. My grampa was my grandma's 3rd husband. He was shot and recieved a purple heart, and that is all anyone knows about his time in the service. My grandma possibly knows more, but not much. To me grampa was not a soldier, he was not a man who had taken human life. He was the man who smelled of tobacco and taught me much of what I know about fishing. He was the sweet man who sometimes would thrust his dentures at me and my cousins to elicit laughter or, in the case of one cousin, shrieks. He was the tall man who would carry me everywhere, even when I was getting a little big for it, giving me a view of the world that I would never otherwise have, being always of short stature. He was the man who would take me on long walks around their large, woody Upper Peninsula property and show me every bird's nest, filled with speckled eggs or small tweeting chicks. He was my partner in crime, smiling at me when I played on the wood pile, in the mud, or in my uncle's shop where he was constantly trying to convert junkers into functional cars, knowing my mother would object. He was the gentle carpenter who only ever yelled when we entered his woodshop, because he wasn't very tidy and had nails and saw blades all over. I remember all these wonderful things and think of the impossibility of him shooting Nazis in Europe. But it happened. I don't know what he saw that horrified him so much that he completely shut out that part of his life, but perhaps I can imagine.

So this memorial day, I'm not so much remembering the women and men who have died for our country; I'm more remembering those soldiers who lived on, but left a part of them behind. A part they chose never to touch again, a part they chose to let die, but to warn and protect future generations. Today my heart is with them.

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