Growing up, my grandfather always told stories about his WW2 adventures. We heard about Bob Hope visiting his ship (Granddaddy was in the Navy) for a USO show. Mr. Hope told the sailors who were setting up to put the chairs in the back for the officers because this was the enlisted man’s show. And he made the nurses from the Red Cross ship mix and mingle with the sailors and sit “boy-girl-boy-girl.”
Granddaddy talked about leave in California where he met Bing Crosby. And he talked about how he got his tattoo of the Hawaiian girl on his leg-which we loved to watch “dance”- and yet, I don’t remember him talking about combat. Sure, he told us what his job was-he was the guy giving the ammo to the guy shooting the gun- but there was never a lot of talk about real combat moments. He did tell us about watching Japan surrender, signing the papers, while perched on his ship and he carried a card in his wallet that said “I was there when Japan surrendered.”
My grandfather was proud of his service. He wanted to be there. Heck, he lied about his age to get into the Navy.
About three years ago I went to Washington, D.C. with my mom and one of my sisters for fall break. We spent three days visiting museums and memorials. On our first day we went to the WW2 Memorial and we just happened to be there at the same time as a rather large group of veterans. Mom and Caroline were a little ways away from me and as I stood there taking it all in, I overheard this older man talking to a girl who seemed to be about my age. It was obvious that they did not know one another. He was telling her about his experiences as a solider. We made eye contact, he smiled, and invited me into their conversation. He said that he had lied about his age so that he could join the army in WW2, was injured, sent home, and then went back. He served in the Korean War and then again in Vietnam. He had contracted Agent Orange, was almost blind, and had suffered numerous other health issues because of his time in the service. As he continued with his story, I noticed that not only had my mother and sister joined us, but a rather large crowd had gathered around us. The gentleman had tears streaming down his face as he looked at me and said “But, you know what? I would do it again and again and again. Because I love my country and I am proud to serve her.” The crowd began to move towards him and he was hugged and hand-shaken for quite awhile.
These are the types of people who serve our country, who live and die for her, who suffer the aftermath of war for her, who do it because they love her.
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”- George Orwell