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Inspirational Reads

Happy Memorial Day

May 26, 2008

Here in the States, it's Memorial Day. This is the one day a year that we set aside and thank the men and women who have valiantly set aside their everyday lives and served their country and her citizenship by either protecting her interests home and/or overseas. It's also the "unofficial" start of summer, but here in the South, that happened weeks ago.

Anyway, my personal connection to the military is several pronged: my cousin Chris served in Afghanistan, my uncle Larry served in Viet-Nam and my grandfather Obe served in WWII. I'm not alone in having connections to the military and its veterans. If you're a member of my generation/age group, then you probably had a grandparent or two who served in WWII. I'm sure we've all had classmates and friends who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. A lot of people have had to endure not having their friends and loved ones come home from their military services; I've been fortunate, and no one in my family has died in the line of duty.

I know very little of any of my family's exploits overseas. I haven't talked to my cousin much since he returned from Afghanistan, and I've never really talked to my uncle about Viet-Nam. My grandfather, also, was rather tight lipped about the tours of duty he pulled in Europe. I guess killing people will make you not want to talk about it. I do know, however, that I had a great-uncle (Clarence, I think it was) who fought in the Battle of the Bulge (or the Battle of the Ardennes), and while he was fighting in it my great-grandfather passed away (on my birthday, no less), and that has been pretty much the most tragic war-story my family has had to endure: Great-grandfather Ivan died without knowing if Uncle Bud (his nickname) had survived the war.

My wife's grandfather was also in WWII, and he served in the infantry. In fact, he was part of the gunnery corps, and (if I remember correctly), they marched up the Italian peninsula, liberating Italy. He eventually made it to Nazi-occupied territory because as he was crossing a battlefield, he came across a German officer and liberated his corpse of the sabre he carried at his side. It's a fucking beautiful sword, with a big, ugly swastika on the pommel stone. When I saw it for the first time (my wife's uncle now has it), it suddenly turned the Nazis into a real enemy, and not just someone who appeared in John Wayne films and history books.

Speaking of John Wayne (my grandfather's favorite actor), he had a role in one of my all-time favorite war films: The Longest Day. I love that movie. It recounts the D-Day offensive from the pre-dawn hours to the fight on the beaches. Whenever I watch it, I think about my grandfather being in one of those planes flying overhead giving aerial support to the troops on the ground.

My grandfather was in the Army Air Corps (a forerunner to the Air Force) and he was (if I remember right) a belly gunner for a B-17 Flying Fortress (like the "Memphis Belle"), and he flew a total of 96 missions over Western Europe. His goal was to get to the 100 missions mark (also called the "Century Club"), but he had been shot down too many times, and so the top brass prevented him from flying anymore. Two missions later, the crew he would have been assigned to was shot down with no survivors. On the return to the States, he was bumped from a flight back home by a ranking officer and had to make the return on a boat. The plane he would have ridden back on went down with no survivors.

Those stories are fairly frightening, but the one story I heard my grandfather tell of his service in Europe really was frightening (there was another story he told, but it was about the first time he had ever seen a transvestite). In one of his bombing runs over the mainland, his plane got shot down. It was over the Benelux countries, and I don't remember which (probably Belgium), but as he and his crew were parachuting to safety, the wind caught him differently and took him into a different area. He immediately ditched his parachute and hid under a bush, where he saw the other members of his crew get captured by the Germans and gunned down on the spot. The Germans than began searching for him, but they went back and forth looking for him for the rest of the afternoon and never found him. Finally, as darkness fell, they abandoned the search and went elsewhere. When he felt it was safe, he began to pick his way through the underbrush. As he was moving along as quietly as possible, a hand reached out from under a bush and grabbed his ankle. He thought he was dead. Turns out, it was a member of the Belgian Underground, and they helped get him back to the lines where he went back to England. I think he might have actually flown a few more raids after that, but I'm not certain. Apparently, the night my grandmother died, he sat up with my mom and told her everything he saw in Europe. Unfortunately, she didn't write them down, and has since forgotten them. He died in January of 1989. Sadly, this is the only story I'll know about his time in the war, but it is one helluva story.So, if you know a veteran of any of our wars, think about them today. If you know someone who lost a loved one in any of our military actions, think about them, too. As I said earlier, I've been lucky that none of my family has ever not returned home from military action. I'm not going to get on a patriotic soapbox here, but whether you're a supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, please think of the people who are out there fighting and remember the bravery and nobility of those people who have offered their lives up as the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I know I'm thankful for all they've done.


The Ex said...

What the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Veteran's Day is in November, and we don't get it off.

Plus, Veteran's Day was originally a celebration of the Armistice from WWI.

Chemgeek said...

Well written post (as usual). My Uncle served in Vietnam. He has never spoken about it. I can only imagine the horrible things he experienced.

Frank said...

I don't know much about the military exploits of my family, either. I know my mom had an uncle who was killed in WWII, and my grandpa served during the occupation of Germany, but not during the war itself. I've had some friends from high school get shipped overseas, but unfortunately I haven't really had the chance to speak with them much since then.

Jidai said...

Yeah, I have an interesting family history when it comes to military service. My grandfather on my dad's side fought in Europe after D-Day and was going to the Pacific, but the war ended. My Grandpa on my Mom's side fought for Japan in China. So yeah, a tad strange.

My dad escaped going to Vietnam due to a genetic problem with his heart and all my uncles were in Vietnam.

My Father-in-law was a gunner on a river boat in Vietnam and doesn't like to talk about it.

Lisa-tastrophies said...

Difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day:
Veteran's Day celebrates ALL who have served.
Memorial Day remembers those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

I have several family members who served. My great aunts were WAACS (later WACS), WAVS, WMRS and members of the CAP. Did you know that women were discharged after WWI and WWII with NO military or retirement benefits? That several of the WASPS who died in service were not buried by the military or given honors? Their fellow WASPS had to pay to have the bodies shipped home for burial. In WWI many had to supply their own uniforms.
I'm not a feminist but sometimes I think we over look the sacrifices women have made as well. They many not have been as many, but many have given a lot (if not all) and should be recognized.

Thus endth the soap box stand.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

I did know that women were...hmmm...disrespected...during their war efforts. I don't think my mom's mom served in any capacity, other than being a Rosie the Riveter. She was kind of like "there's work to be done, let's do it!"

Thanks for the differentiation between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.