November 12, 2011

Veterans

I should have posted this yesterday, but I still had my head in sick-land.  I didn't think to write it until I was drifting off to sleep last night, images of the UNC/Michigan State Carrier Classic basketball game on board the aircraft carrier USS Cole Vinson dancing around in my head.  Active servicemen and women, veterans, the president, all present to watch a college ball game.  It was pretty amazing.

So I thought about some of the veterans I've known and loved (and in some circumstances, not known), and I thought I should post a few words about them.

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My grandfather, Sydney, was in the Army during WWII.  His unit served first in North Africa and then in Italy. 

One of the last times I saw him alive was when I surprised him on his 80th birthday by traveling from New Jersey to Boca Raton, Florida, where he lived all my life.  I remember sitting at my aunt's dining room table alone with both my grandparents (they'd been married over five decades by then) while my grandfather told me a story.  I can still hear him talking in his thick Jersey accent, in which "girls" are pronounced "goils."

He stayed in Italy for a long time, having contracted a bad case of pneumonia (I questioned that later in life, when I read about outbreaks of slightly less-savory diseases during the war, but who cares, right?).  By the time he came back to the states, he was fluent in Italian, a fact which he kept secret for a long time.  

One day he walked down an Italian street carrying two gallon jugs of olive oil, liquid gold in those days of having no fat with which to cook your food.  He carried one jug in each hand, and as he walked, civilian women lined the streets, trying to trade for the oil.  Food, treats...themselves...nothing was off the table as they bargained.  

I can't say for sure, but I don't think both gallons of requisitioned olive oil bad it back to Grandpa's base.

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My husband's grandfather was one of six brothers who served simultaneously in various branches of the military during WWII.  Can you imagine being their parents? All six boys overseas?

There were stories written about their family in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina at the time.  Their mother was honored.

Charles's aunt has binders full of the letters exchanged between father, mother and sons during that time.  I can't even comprehend the love passed around the world in those years.

And would you believe? All six came home.  Charles's Poppa among them.  

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Charles's father served in Vietnam, flying rescue helicopters during the Tet Offensive.   

I never got to meet him, so I don't know many stories, but I know it was tricky, dangerous territory, and I know he saved lives.  

One of his friends' choppers crashed, and the man had to be put back together, piece by piece, but he survived.  When I met the friend, Mr. R, he hugged me and said, "I know you never got to meet Chuck, but I knew him well, and he would have loved you."  

Those words meant more to me than I can say.  

And strangely enough, my own uncle worked for the military during Vietnam, creating the exact same helicopter armor that helped protect my father-in-law and his friends.

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I once spent a year living near an Air Force base in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I knew tons of soldiers then, but three in particular stand out.

Webster, Stockton and Bierbach.  All three MPs, all three great friends.  They treated me like their sister, kept in touch with me for a long time even after I moved away.  Bierbach and I used to joke that we were the same person, separated only by birth and gender.  He and I drove to New Orleans on Mardi Gras that year, speeding down the highway in his Corvette (which he let me drive!).

All three have served multiple times overseas, and while I've lost touch with them by now, I am forever grateful for their friendship in what was a tumultuous year. 

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I have friends with spouses in the military; friends who are veterans; friends who have served this country loyally.  

I'm not typically one for major displays of patriotism, but yesterday, when the National Anthem began before the basketball game, Zoe stood up and, with her hand over her heart, began singing along.  Charles and I joined in, saluting our country and our veterans. 

It was a happy, proud moment.

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