Memorial Day memories

Jam of the week: “The Waydown” by Modest Mouse

While my Memorial Day is usually marked with a lot of outdoor activity, being with family and most importantly, grilling, this past weekend in Webster City was much different.

Of course, that difference was the weather we’ve had. I won’t dwell on the weather as I’m sure we all have, but having a long weekend that was mostly spent indoors meant I had a lot of time to reflect on the holiday.

Coming from a relatively small family, I can’t name too many family members who have served in the armed forces. As a child, my dad told me that his father was unable to go into the service because he had a sixth toe on one foot and was unable to find a pair of regulation boots that fit him.

Unfortunately, I know little about the actual history of my family members in the military. My grandpa, on my mom’s side, served in World War II. The little I recall about his service was that he, a German immigrant, flew planes over Europe in the Navy during the war. Any stories he may have told me about his service faded from my memory, as he passed away when I was just about five years old.

I do recall doing a small amount of research on my grandpa for a grade school project. Of course, I didn’t dig deeper than the short stories that my mother told me and a few photos she had saved of him from his time in service. It occurred to me, as I sat at home this weekend, how truly little I knew about him and his military service, and how I have never talked about it extensively as an adult with my mom or other family members. I don’t know how much more I can glean from others, and I wish I could have had the time to talk about it with him as an adult.

Now that I consider what we would have talked about in such a situation, I don’t know exactly what I would hope to learn from him. Even through photos of the war, through countless documentaries and dramatic, Hollywood films that have been made about World War II, I don’t think I could exactly understand what participating in a total war scenario would be like. I don’t think my grandpa could have expressed exactly how he felt in the pilot’s seat to someone who hasn’t been there before.

Still, I think just a peek into how my grandpa felt would have been enough. Knowing what my grandpa took from his situation, what lessons he learned, would have been enough. While those memories and lessons might not be entirely lost, passed down through his children and letters and documents that may still exist, I regret that I cannot hear about his experiences first-hand now.

When I last spoke to several members of the American Legion Post 191, they spoke about how many veterans of the World War II and Korean War are passing away. For those of you who still have the chance, I urge you to not live with the regret that I do and learn what you can from veterans in your family while you still can. I think such an act honors them in a way that all veterans should be honored for such a holiday.