I’m always humbled on Memorial Day when I think of what veterans of our military have done for us over the years, and what they continue to do to protect our freedoms.
My wife’s grandfather is in his 90s and he still talks about the days “he didn’t have a pot to piss in”.
Grandpa John tells the same stories over and over, but they never lose their impact on me.
His generation was much tougher than ours.
Lisa and I got to go on a 10 day honeymoon to Maui after we got married.
John was still trying to make ends meet after his WW II service.
He married Grandma Char in the morning.
Then he went to work that afternoon at the bowling alley.
Just love and the desire to be with each other for the rest of their lives.
John tells me he remembers the war.
He was an MP on base and never saw any action.
He tells his stories based on the smells and sounds.
The battlefront was about 20 miles from where he was stationed in England.
He could hear the ‘boom boom” of the bombs and artillery all day and all night.
Smell the death when the trucks rolled in with casualties stacked inside.
He doesn’t like to talk about it much.
Never goes into details about what he saw.
That’s why I’m pretty sure he must have seen some gruesome stuff.
He often points to Elliana and says “I hope she has a better life than I did.”
This past Easter we went to the nursing home he is in for and Easter egg hunt.
He stared in amazement at all of the baskets full of candy.
“You know what I got when I was a kid for Easter?”
“One jelly bean. There were ten kids in my family. We were lucky if we all had enough to eat every day.”
The funny thing is, John doesn’t have any resentment about what he didn’t have.
It’s just the way it was.
After his wife of more than 50 years passed away last year, all John kept saying was “We had a lot of fun. But now the party’s over.”
His entire life revolved around his love for Char.
And his love for this country.
He was a crossing guard about fifteen years ago before Char began having a lot of heart problems.
Every other time I see him he recounts the story of a little girl that came up to him, tugging on his pants.
“Mr. JJ? My mom forgot to pack my lunch today. I’m really hungry.”
John shakes his head as he tells the story.
“What the hell? That ain’t what I fought for.”
He mentions how the mother usually showed up with a beer bottle in the cup holder, driving too fast through the parking lot.
“I walked the kid into the school, gave her five dollars. I told my buddies in the lunch line to make sure they took care of her.”
That five dollars is more than John ever got when he was kid.
Yet he’s not bitter about it.
He didn’t want to see that little girl suffer like he had to when he was little.
His act of valor speaks volumes about a generation of givers that are slowly dying out.
I hope I can be as brave as John.
I hope I can honor the sacrifices he made serving his time in World War II, by never taking for granted the freedoms that I have.
That ain’t what he fought for.