As I sit here, reading my email and blogs, I hear jets flying overhead. The Air Force Thunderbirds are practicing their stunts for the Academy’s graduation on Wednesday.
Living in a town that is close to a bunch of Military Installations, the Air Force Academy is only one of four different Military Installations nearby, I see men and women in uniform all the time. I am constantly reminded of the sacrifice people from all branches of the military make so we can continue to enjoy what freedoms we have.
Today though, I find myself remembering my Grandfather. He taught me about patriotism, about nationalism, and a whole bunch of other things.
He enlisted in the army right out of high school, as part of what is now the Air Force (it was the 101st Airborne unit at the time), but was “borrowed” by the regular Army after he’d gone through basic training. It was WWII, and they needed all the boots on the ground they could get. My Grandfather was in the “Battle of the Bulge”, was part of the troops that actually liberated Paris (and had to wait around for a week, camped outside Paris due to General Patton having to be the “first” American in Paris — truth was the soldiers were going in and out of Paris all week before General Patton arrived), and was part of a troop that liberated a concentration camp (unfortunately, I don’t remember which one).
When he left for the War, he left his high school sweetheart (my Grandmother) and told her that if she found somebody else while he was gone, he’d understand. After all, he was going to war, who knew if he’d return, and if he did, what kind of condition he’d be in. My Grandmother loved him, and so waited for him. They were married one month after he got back from the War (and didn’t the tongues wag and people start counting months).
As part of his duties as a soldier, he had to do things he never would have done in civilian life, and see things he never would have seen in civilian life. Things that ended up haunting him his entire life. But he was there to do a job (which included killing other people) and he did what he had to do.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t something that was known about right after WWII, and psychiatry was something that “nuerotic women who had too much money paid to charlatans to get over imagined illnesses”. Needless to say, Grandpa never sought any help for the nightmares he suffered from all the times, the memories and flashbacks he had. He just did what he had to do in order to keep going.
He returned from the War without a scratch on him (which is very impressive, considering the battles he was in), and started a life with my Grandmother. They had a house built in a suburb of Chicago, put down roots, raised a family in that house.
He taught his children many lessons in patriotism. By his actions, he showed us (because my grandparents raised me for 14 years of my childhood) what it meant to support the country and the constitution. He showed us by being extremely proud of relatives who joined the army (rather than being drafted) during the Vietnam Era, even though he was glad none of his children ever joined up. When I was thinking about it in High School though, he never told me not to do it. He did tell me once that if it were up to him, he would not join the military, but it was my choice to make. That whatever decision I made, he was proud that I was even thinking about joining the military.
Some of the lessons he gave us:
He was pro-gun ownership, but hated guns personally. He hated guns so much he never even allowed any of us kids to have water pistols.
He showed us what it means to “support the troops” while not supporting the engagement they were involved in. During the Vietnam War, he wrote to the President and to his congressmen time and again, urging they get the troops out of Vietnam, and yet he and Grandma sent things to the troops: candy, cookies, stuff like that.
In our first engagement in Iraq, Desert Storm, he and Grandma went around to stores and private homes, collecting soap, toothpaste, deodorant, playing cards, candy, and other things to send off to the troops. They sent off quite a few boxes of stuff.
He showed that patriotism meant standing at attention and saluting the flag as often as it went by in parades, as well as being quiet during the playing/singing of the Star Spangled Banner. And that it also meant being active in working towards creating better laws for everybody, more inclusivity for everybody, and lobbying against unjust laws.
By his actions, he taught that it’s not “United States: Love it or Leave it”, but rather, “United States: Love her enough to make her better.”
By his actions, he taught us that there’s enough room in this country for people of opposite opinions and ideologies to not only exist, but co-exist (relatively) peacefully. After all, the occasional debate with people who hold a different ideology than you might get heated, but in the end, if it didn’t get made personal, it opened one up to seeing how the “other side” saw things, and may even give you food for thought.
I mean, he even “allowed” me to be a Republican, when he was staunchly Democratic. How much more open minded could he be?
My Grandfather passed away in 2001, after losing his battle with senile dementia, but he left a legacy for his children that we continue today.
I hope, those of you who are reading this and who live in the US, that while you enjoy your day off, and your picnics and time with friends and family, that you will remember those who have served and who are serving. Have a moment to reflect on the sacrifice they have made and are making.
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