Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veteran's Day

The scanned picture above is of my maternal grandfather and his father. My grandfather was a US Marine who fought in World War II. In fact, his picture is in Life Magazine, but the family copy disappeared after my grandmother passed.

I was just shy of ten years old, when my grandfather died. Cancer and grief took its toll on him and he died at home in a hospital bed. The last few weeks he wasn't conscious. He had battled Cancer for a few years. The had found it, by accident, when he was taken to the hospital during a car accident. He fought hard, until his oldest son passed, and then things went down hill quickly. My uncle's funeral was the only time I had ever seen my grandfather cry.

My grandfather and I were very close. My mother was a single mother with custody of my brother and I during the week and every other weekend. On the weekend that my father didn't have us, we spent the weekend with my mother's parents.

I didn't know my grandfather was a marine until I was much older. He had met my grandmother on the beach, when they were teenagers. He enlisted not long after, before they were married. According to everyone in the family, he never talked about the war as long as he lived.

You would never know my grandfather was a soldier. He was a kind man with a great sense of humor. Your typical Jewish father. The type of man who would never hurt a fly. At first, he drove a fruit truck for a company he co-owned with his father, that delivered produce to area restaurants. Later, he drove a Checker Cab. Only once did someone try to rob him. He continued driving until he was diagnosed.

There are others in my family who served. My step-brother was in the Navy for several tours of duty. My step-father and his siblings all served in the army during Vietnam; his youngest brother being killed in the Beirut bombing of the 1980s. My other step-father was in the reserves. My grandfather was the most surprising, though. To know him was to know he wouldn't hurt a fly.

I don't believe in war, but I know why we've fought them. I don't believe in guns, but I know why we need them. I can't imagine giving up your personal freedoms to fight for what you believe is right. I can't imagine knowing that at some point you will either be injured, killed, or need to kill. You will not see your family for some time or ever again. You give this sacrifice so that others, including the future generations you have never met, may never have to. Being a soldier is selfless work. It requires a great amount of personal strength and courage. A strength and courage that not many have in us.

My grandfather was lucky. He returned in one piece, got married, and raised three children in a modest middle class family in the suburbs of Boston. He then spent every other weekend with his granddaughter and grandson, taking day trips and playing boardgames.

There were areas of his life where he was not lucky - mainly the Cancer and the untimely death of his son - but, in regards to his sacrifice, he was lucky. The generation after him lost many of their sons and the ones that did come home came home disfigured and/or in deep psychological pain. A lot of these soldiers were not able to fully return to normal civilian life. Some became homeless or worse.

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day. November 11, 1918 was considered the day when World War I officially ended. In 1938, November 11, aka Veteran's Day, was made an official US holiday. A year later World Was II began. Since that time, we've had the Korean War, the Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan... Generations of families have sent their sons and daughters to foreign lands. These men and women say goodbye to their children, never knowing if they will see them again.

The US Department of Veteran's Affairs calls Veteran's Day: "a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good." Let us say a thanks to all of the men and women in our lives who served or are serving. Let us remember the lives of those who have passed. I know I will take the time to remember my grandfather and the sacrifice he made.

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