Thursday, November 11, 2010

Those Who Do, Don't Speak

Today is Veteran's Day, the day set aside for us to remember and thank those who have stood on the front lines in defense of freedom and liberty – and sometimes, simply because they were ordered to and honor and training compelled no other response.

My grandfather – my Dad-dad, often featured on this blog because he rocks hard
served in the Pacific Theatre of World War II on the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. He is 92 now, but the memories of that service have not faded.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) c. 1944
Not too long ago, he told me the tale of his return, when the ship was anchored off the coast of California. It was one of the last carriers to arrive as one of its last duties was transporting discharged soldiers home. A fellow sailor sought Dad-dad out in the bowels of the ship to tell him Dad-dad's brother was on deck looking for him. When he went up top, he found my Great Uncle Henry, my grandmother's brother who was a Marine, himself recently returned from the war. They went off for a day doing whatever sailors do only on this day, after root beer at the club (he may have edited himself here), they went together to buy what would be my Great Aunt Vera's engagement ring.

It's been a few years since he told me this story, but I never forget it. I never forget how Uncle Henry referred to himself as my Dad-dad's brother when he was, in fact, a brother-in-law. Such distinctions had no value then. I never forget the smile that crossed Dad-dad's face when he revealed to me that it was Uncle Henry up top awaiting him or the pleasure learning his brother lived still gave him all those years later. I never forget how this was the first memory of that time that he ever shared with me, and that it was a memory of joy.

I never forget.

He doesn't talk about the war. He'll talk about what happened afterwards, once he even talked about a non-combative situation on the aircraft carrier, but he doesn't speak about what he did or what he saw.

And that in itself speaks volumes.

I was an adolescent when I first watched a Charlie Brown special called What Have We Learned?, the one with Snoopy as the ace WWI fighter pilot drinking root beer in the French café. The show concludes when Linus (who else) recites In Flanders Fields in a field of poppies. I'd never heard that poem before, and I had no clue to what event it referred. But my young self was so touched by the words, so impacted by the visual of cartoon poppies surrounding white crosses, the next day I went to the library to find and memorize it.

I can still recite that poem to this day (along with the opening paragraph to The Outsiders, but that's a different story), though I've only just realized that I've had the last line wrong lo these many years (still so Polish).

My grandmother's family sent seven men to World War II, including my Dad-dad; miraculously, seven came home. We are fortunate in the fact that it was the last time my family sent members into combat (we're mostly a family of women) but I am never unaware that others went instead (I'm thinking of you, Cavanaugh, wherever you are). They serve their country in battlefields around the world and many are suffering for it as well, as Aaron Sorkin illustrated this morning in his great piece for Veteran's Day.

Today, I'll call Dad-dad and thank him for his service (I tear up a little thinking about it) and I'll probably watch an episode or two of Band of Brothers and remind myself of the unfathomable courage those men exhibited every dang day.

In honor of those many men and women who have served and lived to tell about it, go thank or even hug a veteran or active duty soldier today, and tomorrow, and then again next week.

They've earned that and more.

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