If my life continues on its present course until its end, I will have lived my life without directly experiencing war. This statement may be true of many Americans, but I think there are countless nations around the world for whom war is a semi-regular event. Now I’m not saying I haven’t lived during wartime, just that I (thankfully) have no personal experience with it.
The same can’t be said for my family. My daddy served during World War II. My (maternal) granddaddy served and was injured during World War I. His granddaddy was killed in the Civil War. Other family members in previous generations served as well. Suffice to say, I appreciate the service of our veterans and as I grow older, I’m more attuned to what I imagine their experiences may have been. (I am not so naive as to believe I can fully understand their experiences.)
The photo above shows my grandfather (far right) with three of his fellow soldiers. I don’t know exactly when the photo was taken but these men are clearly sitting on the steps of a barracks … the signs say it’s Company L, 315th INF (infantry) and the R-26 on the left side would appear to be their building number. Whether this is a stateside barracks or overseas, I cannot say. Official records show he enlisted as a single man in 1917 for a term of three years and reported for duty to Camp Meade MD on September 22, 1917. He had previously served in the Pennsylvania National Guard for two years.
Military documents show my granddad served in the Battle of Verdun from September 26, 1918 to October 7, 1918 and subsequently in the Battle of Argonne from October 31, 1918 to November 7, 1918. The official end of World War I (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) came a mere four days after the Argonne battle. The paperwork I have doesn’t specify but sometime during one of those two major battles, my granddad was exposed to mustard gas. The paperwork acknowledges this under the Wounds received in service category, stating simply “gassed (mustard)” and nothing else.
On March 31, 1919, my granddad was honorably discharged and returned home. Seven months later, he married my grandmother. (I’ve posted about their unconventional wedding here.) They were married twelve years before the mustard gas eventually took its toll and killed him. (Apparently his lungs were terribly damaged.) One of the interesting things about his death certificate is a notation under Usual Occupation. It says: In hospital under status of war. My mother was only a little girl when he died, but she recalls he was more often than not in the hospital.
I often think about the gift veterans give via their service … and often through their ultimate sacrifice. Through their selfless service, they have made it possible for me and my family to live a quiet life and live mostly without fear of threats from marauding nations or hostile individuals. Even today, with the increased risk from radical terrorists, we don’t normally train our brains to head for cover at the slightest sound. We sleep peacefully in our beds at night, we go to markets without fear, and we live our lives quietly (for the most part).
This scenario isn’t possible in every nation around the world. I won’t name the huge number of evils we’ve seen broadcast on the news in the last year. It’s too awful to repeat here. But our military servicemen and women have helped enable our peaceable lives.
If you’re a veteran (or current serviceman or woman) reading my words, please accept my most sincere thanks for your dedication and service. Whenever I’m at the airport, if I see military people, I try to thank them as well … but often, I get all blubbery to the point of not being able to speak at all. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and can hardly express it!
I began this post by speaking about the course of my life and being privileged to live in relative peace and safety. There are people who believe this is not what our future will be. Frankly, I hope they’re wrong. But for the present, I’m grateful to be blessed as I am.
In large part, I acknowledge it’s because of individuals like my granddaddy who stepped up for service on a foreign shore. The picture above shows him with my mom and my grandma. My mom looks to be about three years old in this picture and her daddy died before her sixth birthday. In a sense, my mom was also a conscript, though an involuntary one; her daddy’s service (and wounds that eventually killed him) became my mom’s responsibility to bear as well.
In recognition and honor of Veterans Day, I thank the veterans themselves … but also their families, spouses, mothers and fathers, as well as children who “soldier on” as my mom did after her daddy’s death. You all have paid a price so precious and my gratitude seems hardly enough. Nevertheless, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.