This post is being published on both PointBlank and BizEngine. Happy Memorial Day, everyone.
My grandfathers fought very different battles in World War II.
My grandfather Burton came to the United States as a boy in the heart of the Great Depression, delivered unto its shores with his small family from Norway. After growing up in Somerville, Mass., he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was an electrician aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard, an aircraft carrier serving in the Pacific theater. He fought with the systems of the ship, the tense wait to hear whether they would be deployed off the coast of Japan in 1945 before the Enola Gay dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the loneliness that came with leaving a young wife at home.
My grandfather Carl, a gruff, quiet and kind-hearted man who also grew up in Massachusetts, was drafted as a U.S. Army soldier in the European theater. He saw combat there against Axis soldiers, was wounded by gunfire and was among the first American soldiers to enter the Dachau concentration camp and behold the living horror and evil that existed there.
Carl died of a heart attack at his kitchen table at 75 years old, when I was in the eighth grade. After he died, we found his Purple Heart, his Bronze Star, Army fatigues, gas mask and a host of memorabilia from the war. I was too young to fully appreciate what his service meant, and why he had never talked about it, even to my father.
Burton is still alive and remarkably well for his 91 years, full of stories and insights of his time abord the carrier. I still learn from him every time I talk to him. During a visit two months ago, I had the chance to go through newspaper clippings with him discussing the Bonhomme Richard he served on, picking through the memories of a man who left his world behind to serve.
Both are great men, among the best I have ever had the opportunity to know. I live in awe of them, as impossible as it is for me to envision myself surviving war, much less retaining my decency and humanity after.
Veterans have given up more than any of us can understand, insulated as many of us are from the world by four walls, our daily fretting over our sales and our business lunches. Throughout history, soldiers have returned from war with heads sloshing with nightmares and injuries that will never heal. They’ve been hailed, spat upon and ignored by the loved ones and strangers they return to. Rarely have they been understood.
So for one day, at least, think about the veterans you know. Thank them, welcome them home or remember those who died on the battlefield or long after the bullets stopped. Think of the families who anxiously waited for their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to come home, and think especially of those who had to see them come home in coffins draped with an American flag. We should donate what time and money we can to those organizations committed to helping veterans.
We should do it not because it is the least we can do, but because it is what we must do. To do less is to abdicate our responsibility to remember and honor those who made great and terrible sacrifices.
Photo credit to linder6580 at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1189711