Three Grandfathers, Three Heroes


All we have of freedom, all we use or know –
This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.
~Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue, 1899


Most people have two grandfathers; I had three. Two of them I had the honor to know for over twenty years. One I never knew at all. The one thing all of them had in common was their service in time of war.

There’s already been so much written about military veterans and how much they mean to us. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, on this Memorial Day, I look back at these men’s lives and I remember them as heroes. They probably never saw themselves that way. They, having grown up in a different generation, probably saw their service as “just doing their duty.” But I don’t see it that way. I see a selfless sacrifice so that my generation, and subsequent generations, might have a chance at a better life.

My two World War II veteran grandfathers truly were part of the Greatest Generation. One was a Marine whose service took him from backwater Kentucky to more exotic places: Guadalcanal, Saipan, Okinawa. The other was a Naval aviator who flew from some of the world’s first aircraft carriers. Neither of them had wives or children back then. Either by choice or not, they were fighting for an ideal. America was not back then and still is not perfect. But it’s one of the only places in the world which truly values abstract concepts like freedom, justice for all, and self-determination. It was those concepts for which they fought…and lived. Others, so many of their comrades and friends, lost their lives.

We remember them all on Memorial Day. The ordinary men and women who became heroes, fighting so far from home so that others might live in peace and comfort.

I learned a lot about life from my two grandfathers. Neither of them ever talked much about their wartime lives. Most veterans don’t. Most of what I knew, I knew from yellowed newspaper clippings, family stories, and framed black-and-white photos. Now that they’re gone, I miss them more than ever. More of the Greatest Generation are dying every day, and soon they will all be gone. With them, I’m afraid, will die a wealth of memories, but more importantly, a sense of honor and duty which is so rare in today’s narcissistic culture. It’s hard to believe now, but some veterans, like my paternal grandfather, actually joined the military to improve their lives. He knew perfectly well what he was getting himself into. He did it anyway.

That’s an ideal we can all hope to emulate.

As for my third grandfather, I never actually knew him. I don’t even know his name. Since I’m adopted, I actually have another family out there somewhere, the one which gave birth to me. Of the little information I was given about them, I know that my maternal grandfather was a career Army soldier who fought and died in Vietnam. If I ever make it to Washington, to the Wall, maybe I’ll see his name carved there and not even know it.

These three men are all my heroes. So many times we’ll say that spoiled athletes, rock stars, or Hollywood actors are our “heroes,” but to me, I’ll always stick with veterans. No matter which war, from World War II to Vietnam, Desert Storm to Afghanistan, these men and women have been fighting and dying for us. They have been leaving the comforts of home and family behind for years at a time so we don’t have to. If that’s not enough to make us stop and thank them, I’m not sure what is.

Remember our fallen military men and women not just today, but every day. They are America’s heroes.

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on May 30, 2011.

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