Since the Royals aren't giving us much to remember lately, I thought perhaps the community would be interested in observing Memorial Day weekend by sharing stories of veterans we've known but are no longer with us. Seems to me that keeping their stories and memories alive is one of the best ways to thank them, along with enjoying the freedoms they helped ensure.
Memories of veterans can extend beyond soldiers themselves, to others affected by war. My father's family survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in WWII, one of relatively few to make it through the internment camps with no losses. As ethnic/cultural caucasian-Americans, they'd been there since the Spanish-American war and so weren't about to leave. My paternal grandfather was off at college in the US when war broke out, and I still have in my possession a packet of the letters his mother sent him as war came ever nearer the country. They're a mix of apprehension at the growing Japanese threat, (misguided) optimism that US reinforcements would come in time, and a growing sense of foreboding as bombs begin to fall on Manila and they lose neighbors and friends to direct hits. Finally the letters stop, and he spent the war on a submarine in the Pacific hearing nothing of his family's fate. But they all made it, and my father was born & raised in post-war Manila.
My maternal grandfather was almost a caricature of the WWII experience. From far northern Minnesota, he enlisted rather than be drafted, made it through North Africa and Sicily before a serious leg wound from German artillery sent him home from Italy. A devout Christian, his letters home reveal some of the emotional and philosophical tension he felt in an environment & duty so hostile to his beliefs. Recovering in New Orleans, he fell in love with a pretty Mississippi nurse and won her over. He always walked with a limp from the large divot in his calf where shrapnel passed through. As a kid, I sopped up the carefully sanitized war stories he told me, not realizing until much later how much he was holding back. Like a lot of families, we watched Saving Private Ryan together and walked out in tears. He still wouldn't talk about a lot of things to me, though he knew I was fascinated by the history, but we were especially close after that. He passed away a few years ago after a long and fulfilling life.
Throughout high school I played Taps for as many veterans' funerals as I could manage. There weren't many good trumpet players in our rural area, and too often vets got tape recorders instead or poorly warbled renditions. I really enjoyed doing this, though I haven't done it in a long time now and my lips are no good anymore. The notes still give me chills.
So I'm appreciative of the memories, not only of my grandfathers who directly served, but of my grandmother who healed so many wounded soldiers, of my family in the Philippines who held out under brutal occupation conditions, and so many more people who contributed to our freedom in ways large and small. I hope some of you will want to share stories as well from any era, to keep those memories and that gratitude alive. Thanks for reading.