Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memory....

I was in my second year of college and my history professor gave the class a project.  We were to fill out an ancestry pedigree chart.  By speaking with all of our living relatives about their lives, we were to not only gather statistical data on our ancestor's birth and birth places, but also ascertain whether they served in the military and what their experiences were while they served, as well as any information they could pass along about relatives who had already passed away.  The more information we could glean, the better our grade.

Memorial Day
My Grandfather

My parents loved to expound on their family history, so I latched onto this assignment figuring it to be a very easy 'A'.  With the 'pedigree' chart in-hand, I sat down and questioned my parents.  Three generations of my ancestry chart were nearly complete within thirty minutes.  A quick phone call to my mother's parents, as well as some digging through old newspaper obituary notices by my father, allowed me to complete the four generations required for the chart in an hour.

But, the 'pedigree' chart was not the only part to this assignment.  I thought finding the names and birth places of my ancestors was going to be the most difficult part of this assignment, since it required me going back 150 years.  Names and places turned out to be the easy part.  Reading about and listening to my grandfather talk about his experiences in combat during World War II was life changing.

My grandfather was sent to the South Pacific and while he spoke of many funny experiences he had upon arriving in the region, he had refused to speak about his encounters in war....... until I told him about my history project over the phone.  Since I would be coming to visit him over my Spring Break from college, he agreed to let me "interview" him for my class assignment.

A week later, I arrived at my grandparents' home.  One evening while my grandmother and mother were preparing dinner, my grandfather was ready to talk.  We sat down in their living room.  He pulled out a journal he had hidden between the arm rest of his recliner and his leg.  As he reluctantly handed it to me, I could see him struggle with sharing his thoughts and experiences.

He finally handed it to me with one stipulation:  I could read it until dinner was ready but not a minute longer.  I quickly sat down and started flipping through the small journal.

I laughed as I read his account of meeting the women of the South Pacific region for the first time.  Apparently all of the island women on his base were topless.  The Commanding Officer ordered all of the men to put their eyes back in their heads and for the women on the base to be given shirts.

The next day, the women showed up on the base with the shirts on........... and perfectly round holes cut out for their breasts.  My grandfather started laughing so hard at the memory, he had tears running down his face.

As my time with his journal was severely limited, I quickly flipped forward a good number of pages.  What I read made my heart stop.

The entry began with him having described how he had just finished eating dinner and was going to lay down in his tent and catch some much needed rest.  He had no sooner laid down when he heard shouts of "incoming!".

Before he could move, bombs started exploding and machine guns started firing.  As he jumped up, the tent next to his exploded and the soldiers resting inside, his friends, were killed in an instant.

A lump grew in my throat and tears filled my eyes as I read his next thoughts.  I looked up into my grandfather's eyes. With eyes brimming with tears, he knew exactly what I was reading.  I can still hear his pain as he spoke so softly "I could never understand why the bomb hit their tent and not mine.  Why they died and I survived.".

My grandmother announced dinner was served.  My time was up.  I got up from the sofa, handed him the journal, and gave him a hug.  We never discussed those painful memories again, but today I remember.

Memorial Day
Public Domain Flag Image

For me, today is more than just a day for barbeque, swim parties, and wearing patriotic colors.  Today I remember my grandfather, his friends, and all those who have served and have given their all.  Today I remember their call to duty, I respect their service, and I honor their sacrifice.  To all of the servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as to their families, I say Thank You.

Christie Bielss

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