No Fancy Name
Saturday, May 29, 2004
the vets
Today, the WWII Memorial was dedicated, in Washington DC. How the hell it took 60 years for these folks to get a monument, that's beyond me. "The greatest generation", these folks are called, and I sure won't argue with that. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Army, and war. Not in some weird way, but in some reverential way. I completely understood the sense of honor and duty and patriotism, even as a kid. One of the only things I remember about my great-grandmother's house was the picture of my great-grandfather on the wall, as an old man, holding his silver star. He came to the United States from Italy, via Ellis Island, in 1916. He gained his citizenship by enlisting in the Army and going back to Europe to fight in WWI, whereupon he took out a German machine gun nest and thus was awarded his medal. My great-grandfather died a few months before I was born, but I'll bet he had some stories.

When I was in the third grade, most of the books I read were made-for-kids biographies of famous people. I must have read the Dwight D. Eisenhower biography tons of times, plus the books for MacArthur and Pershing. My absolute favorite books, for many years, were Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Guadalcanal Diary and John F. Kennedy and PT-109. I wanted to go to West Point, and be in the Army. Obviously, I didn't.

So, I watched the WWII Memorial dedication, and I cried (as I am apt to do at anything on TV). Both of my grandfathers were in the Navy during WWII, but I don't know a darn thing about where they were or what they did -- they both died when I was eight. I have a picture of my paternal grandfather, in his Navy uniform with his mother and two brothers (who were in their Army uniforms). I once saw another photo of him, giving a haircut to a buddy on a ship. It's a great picture. My other grandfather was also in the Navy. Various other granduncles were also in the military -- because that's what you did when your country called. My maternal grandfather's brother, my granduncle Walter, was the only direct family member who was actually killed in the war. He died on Nov 23, 1943 at Monte Cassino, as the allies were beginning the series of assaults that lasted through the next year. I thought about him, this fella I never knew, who probably looked a lot like the grandfather I don't remember.

In the news stories you read about WWII vets, the memorial, etc, there's a constant theme--that the vets don't talk about the war. Not surprising, as war doesn't tend to be full of happy memories that are meant to be shared. But think about the stories that these everymen have to tell, men that we're losing at a rate of 1,000 per day. This is evident in the obituary section of my hometown newspaper, which I read every day. If there are, say, five obits in one day, four of them are for WWII vets. These men -- and women -- in their 80s, have lines in the obits like "He served with the U.S. Army in WWII with Company A 1913 Engineer Battalion as a cook in the Philippine islands" and "He was a U.S. Air Force veteran, serving with the First Air Commandoes in India and Burma during WWII." These were guys from nowheresville, Pennsylvania, who went off to far-away lands at a young age, survived a war, came back to nowhere, and probably never went anywhere again. Luckily, the Library of Congress has been sponsoring a project for the last few years, where volunteers collect oral histories from the men who served in WWII. I'm glad for that.


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