On days like this, when stories of wars and heroes flood the airways, I often think about your time in the service.
You rarely spoke about your time in the army. I grew up knowing that you were a World War II veteran, and a POW in Germany. Still to this day I don’t know much more than that.
I know you went to boot camp in Oklahoma. I remember the day you shared your boot camp “yearbook” with me. We flipped through pages and you’d tell me stories about some of the men in the pictures. I remember giggling at the one of you and your two closest friends — you in the middle, and (at only 5’2″) flanked by two men well over 6 feet tall. It was obvious the way you looked at that picture that those two men meant alot to you. I never had the courage to ask you if they made it back to the States.
I don’t know much about the time you spent fighting in Germany. I know you were a POW for more than a year. While you didn’t often talk about those times, there’s a story I recall you sharing many times — of men trading their only food (a potato) for a few cigarettes. That experience was etched in your mind and you’d share it with me as a great lesson for why I shouldn’t ever start smoking. To this day I haven’t, and I’m sure that was at least in part by your sharing that painful moment in hopes that it would teach me a valuable lesson.
I know your feet were badly hurt by the frostbite you suffered, and its effects were with you the rest of your life. While it made you uncomfortable (and sometimes it was even painful) you never once complained about the time you had given to your country. You were silently proud. So silent, that your brothers had to tell me that you had been awarded a purple heart and a bronze star. While I’ll never know what actions earned you those medals, I’m immensely proud of the person you were.
I also remember how fondly you’d remember your time returning to the States. When you got home you were shipped down to Atlantic City, where at first you were hospitalized, and later stayed there for some R&R before going home. I can only imagine the jubilation you felt stepping foot once again on American soil. Your face would light up when you talked about that time. About seeing friends for the first time. About reuniting with family. To this day I can’t drive to Atlantic City without thinking of you and what a happy place that was for you. And while I know you loved to gamble a bit, I suspect those happy times were some of what made you take so many trips down there in your later years.
When I look back on the sacrifices you made for our country, I am both proud and humbled. I can no longer joke about moving to Canada to escape what this country has become. When times got tough, you certainly didn’t quit. And neither will I.
And while you’re no longer here to share your thoughts with me, your silence continues to teach me many things — never give up, never settle, never take the easy way out, and never take anything for granted.
Thanks for such wonderful lessons,
Your loving daughter