A few weeks ago, a day came and went, marking the year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. His absence was and remains much harder than any of us expected. One of the most defining things in his life was his service in World War II. I don’t think men like him exist anymore–the kind of boy who at 17 tried to trick his mother into allowing him to enter the war early, the kind of man who saw way too much at too young an age.
It’s hard to write about because I do not want to cry about it. I remember his funeral, the 21 gun salute, taps playing. I could weep.
It wasn’t until the last 10-20 years that he opened up at all about the toughest parts of his service and still I know there are unplumbed depths of his memories, situations I cannot even begin to imagine, moments he had to forget and moments he could not speak of because to speak of them would bring them back to life, giving muscle and bones to old ghosts.
I loved this strong and sometimes hard man. As his only granddaughter, I saw more softness than most. In eighth grade we had an assignment to interview a veteran and than create a project around that interview. I interviewed him and I wrote about the experience because writing is how I deal with things. Unbeknownst to either of us, my mother, his daughter, sent it all of to Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan was the last war movie he saw; it was so real that it brought back so many memories and was incredibly painful–before that he enjoyed war movies for what they were and they weren’t realistic enough to cause issue). Tom Hanks wrote back on thick and beautiful Cartier surgery, type with an old typewriter. He was so proud of that and proud of me.
I was proud of him.
Billy Joel has a song he wrote about the Vietnam war and I can’t listen to it without crying. I especially could not hear it when I was at the Billy Joel concert and it was played with servicemen and women, their arms around one another, as they sang the chorus: And we will all go down together.
Marking this day is hard for me. I am not sure how to do it. But letting it pass without saying anything is hard too. I miss him–his heart and his strength. I wish very much I could talk to him now, knowing what I know now since he has passed. I know he is with Jesus and he knew he was going to be with his savior and that brought him a great amount of solace at the end. It brings me solace now.
There are no tears where he is now. There is no war. He was nearly the last to go of all his friends. Now, when you are somewhere and they ask WWII vets to stand up and be recognized, there are few left. He is with his brothers now.
They tried to give him the purple heart for an injury he sustained from barbed wire but he refused it. I have cousins, younger than me, who have created stories around his service and what happened. Maybe it helps them in some ways. In many ways, I hope it does. In other ways, I want to correct their facts. You’re wrong and you don’t even realize it. You never sat with him and talked about it. You didn’t interview him in great detail. It’s because I want him to be mine alone but he isn’t. Instead, he is mine shared. But because he is mine at all, I want the facts of his life and sacrifice and death to be accurate.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
People post on social media about their loved ones who served on days like today. I understand the day should be marked. I am marking it. But let’s be sure we are doing it for them–the people we love and gone away–and not for comments and likes on social media. In many ways, my grandfather gave up the man he could have been when he went to war because he was forever changed. So I mark it for him because today is only about him.
I can’t even reread this to edit it. I just don’t want to cry.
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