|My Grandpa (R) receiving the purple heart. I treasure this photograph!|
Yesterday evening I ambled over to my Grandpa's side of the house.
He lives in his own home, connected to ours, and most afternoons or evenings I sit a while with him and we talk or watch an old movie on TCM, and sometimes crunch chips or cookies together (as he scolds me and I scold him with sheepish grins that we shouldn't be eating things like that!) Last night the movie "Flags of Our Fathers" was on. I sat for a while and watched it with him. It's the story of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Grandpa has told me about the battles on Iwo Jima many--literally, countless times. He was a tanker in the South Pacific and spent time on Guam, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima. His tank was part of the first wave of tanks to make it on the beach of Iwo. He describes the black, steaming sand of that place and the fact that the island looked to them exactly what he pictured hell to look like; bleak, rocky, black, smoking. He describes the fact that the 22,060 Japanese were so intrenched on the island that they had it gridded; they could literally "drop a mortar in your back pocket if you held it out for them." So there was a bloodbath when our 70,000 troops landed on the island and 6,812 of our men were killed or missing. 19,217 were wounded, and my Grandpa was one of them. (21,844 Japanese were killed on Iwo Jima.) Two of his buddies in the tank with him were killed instantly when the tank was hit. The shell sliced off part of one's head and ripped through the other's chest. Grandpa lay on the beach on a stretcher alongside hundreds of other wounded men. With shrapnel in his leg he couldn't move much and they were terrified when more mortars began dropping not too far away. They lay helpless, waiting for evacuation. The medics had to drop everything and leave the vicinity for their own safety, and Grandpa reached over and held up the IV of the wounded man next to him.
|Grandpa with 3 of his 10 great-grands. |
All 10 of them love him so much!
To me, my Grandpa is the biggest hero I know. I am so proud to be his granddaughter. I am amazed by what he did and who he is today because of it. I understand, though--and he'd be the first to remind me-- that Grandpa's sacrifice was small compared to the thousands who never made it back, never got the chance to fall in love with a beautiful blonde like my Gramps did and have two boys and 4 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He honors his fallen brothers by standing for hours at attention in the heat, like he did today in a cemetery after taking part in a parade (he's almost 89!). When Memorial Day comes around I have a profound feeling of gratefulness for the troops who have given their lives for me, and yet it feels vague. I didn't know any of them. War and death is a world away, to me. Grandpa, though, sees the individual faces of the men he called his friends. No doubt he can't help but remember some of the gruesome deaths he saw and I wonder sometimes if he still hears the screams and the explosions and the other sounds of war. These men whose lives we honored were his brothers at arms. They were men he endured bootcamp with, bunked with, traveled halfway around the world with, laughed with, drank and pulled pranks and goofed off as only a 19 year old kid can. And then the horrors of war hit and the boys were thrust into manhood. Some of their lives were forfeit according to our sovereigh God's plan (oh, HOW He must grieve during war!!!), and some of their lives were saved but would never be the same.
As I watched "Flag Of Our Fathers" yesterday I was profoundly moved. The gore and violence of that movie is incredible and I had to look away at so many parts. Tears came as I realized that the carnage I was watching on screen was just a tiny taste of what Grandpa had survived. I went to him and hugged him and thanked him for his sacrifice. I told him he was my hero. I told him I am incredibly grateful that he made it through. And I cried for the boys who never made it home.
I love you and I honor you this weekend,
Grandpa! You're my hero!
|Gramps and I in Alaska last year|