Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day and I have to admit that in recent generations, there aren't that many in my family, especially if you use the narrower definition of veteran that requires a person have served in combat to earn that title. My mom's parents were too young to be involved with World War II and too old for Korea. Her dad was in the Navy and Merchant Marines, but wasn't old enough to join until after the war had ended. He did spend some time in occupied Japan, though.

My dad's parents were almost a decade older, however, and his dad actually did serve in the Marines while the World War II was still ongoing. Still, I never much thought of him as a veteran. First, he rarely mentioned his time in the war and whenever he or anyone else ever talked about it they usually described him as having spent the entire time in the Philippines peeling potatoes. He had run off at a younger age to Atlanta to join the military, but his dad chased him down and dragged him back home to wait until he was drafted. By then, the war was winding down and Granddaddy didn't get deployed until many of the Pacific islands had been largely cleared of the Japanese. He did occasionally tell the story of his first day at boot camp. He'd never learned to swim and he said during physicals the sergeant threw him in the pool, he passed out, sank to the bottom, and when he woke up he was in uniform on a ship without a speck of land in sight.

Of course it doesn't mean that I don't respect what veterans have done to keep the rest of us safe just because my granddad wasn't what we typically think of veterans. K's grandfather had a much more distinguished military career than any of my grandparents. He was injured twice by shrapnel, once in the leg and once in the face. One of those times came shortly after he stormed the beach on D-Day. I never would have thought it only knowing him in his old age as I did, but the guy had apparently been a badass during the war. Guys like him are the reason for this holiday. Even now when I don't exactly think many of the wars after World War II were fully justified, I fully respect the risks and sacrifices veterans make.

Of course, it hasn't always just been the soldiers who worked so the rest of us could stay safe. My dad's mother actually was a Rosie the Riveter. The only way that descriptor could have fit more literally was if she had actually been named Rosie. She spent the war putting rivets into bombers at a factory in Atlanta, so when I tip back a beer in honor of the veterans today I'll have her in mind as well as people like K's grandfather and, yes, even mine.


Julie said...

My dad is a Vietnam veteran. I always call to tell him I'm thinking of him on Veteran's Day. It makes me so sad to think about what he experienced during the war and then how the soldiers were treated upon their return. There are plenty of people who disagree with our current situation but I've seen so many soldiers out in restaurants or stores where ordinary citizens will stop them to say thank you or buy them a beer.

My dad doesn't talk about his experience and I try not to ask him about it because I can't imagine how dark many of the memories must be. But I always hope that he was treated with respect upon his return - like the soldiers I see today.

Jacob said...

That's one thing I think is better this time around than in Vietnam. People don't seem to confuse the justification of the war with the troops themselves. Those guys didn't decide to go on their on. The wars are always started by guys who don't have to fight. I always thought it was unfair that the protesters for Vietnam took their frustrations out on the soldiers. Most of those guys probably didn't even want to be there. They were drafted. It was either go, go to jail, or go to Canada.