Both of my grandfathers were veterans of World War II.
My Grandpa Terlouw, my mom's dad, was a plane mechanic in England. He got sick (pneumonia, I think?) and was hospitalized during his service. I've wondered if this illness (coupled of course with his years of smoking) didn't weaken his lungs and contribute to his eventual death from lung cancer. He died in February 1996, during my senior year of high school. The day of his funeral was unseasonably warm, and I remember thinking grandpa, who loved gardening, would have probably started puttering around outside a little on such a beautiful day, planning that year's veggie patch.
My Grandpa Deur, my dad's dad, served in the Pacific. His job was to set up radio communications on the various islands. For years I didn't know what this meant--in fact, I thought it was kind of a cushy, non-combative job. But apparently this meant that grandpa was one of the first people going into some of these locations. He was entering into the unknown. Grandpa Deur died April 2007, and at his funeral they played a clip of a presentation he did for a grade school class about his service in the war. He revealed details to these fifth graders that he had never openly shared with his own kids, details that revealed how terrifying the experience was for a fresh, untested 20-year-old farm boy from Iowa, and how closely he connected those experiences to his growing faith and love of his family.
When I think of Veteran's Day now, I don't just think about those who served, but those who were left at home. I think of my Grandma Deur, who found her courtship with my grandpa extended from three years to seven because of his deployment, who went out to Penneys for her wedding dress that she would wear in a blizzard just days after grandpa arrived back in Iowa. My Grandpa and Grandma Terlouw hadn't met when he was in the war, but I sometimes think of the conversations they must have had about his service after they were married, and whether she wondered about this part of his past that she had no access to but that must have shaped who he was in some indefinable way.
I think of Jeff's Grandma Beukema, who lost a baby on the day he was born while her husband was serving in Italy. I think of that letter or telegram, and that horrible aching and longing to be together that must have doubled, tripled at the news. I can't imagine.
I also think of my friend Kristin, my masters program buddy, whose husband, Nathan, was in Afghanistan while she was studying for her MA in Ohio. That was the closest I've ever been to someone who had a loved one serving in a war, and I can tell you with complete assurance that it sucked. Now Kristin (who is also in the military...yay, Cap'n Loyd!) and Nathan live in Colorado...together.
And I think of my sister-in-law, Katy, whose brother Rich is in Afghanistan now. His emails home are riddled with military terms and jargon I don't get, but they are also full of insight, intensity, and experiences that I will never understand.
But even if I can't comprehend the experience, the motivation, the reality of service, I can be thankful for those who have served, who have come out the other side unscathed, or with invisible scars that have shaped who they are.
Three links: Kate at Sweetsalty has written a moving account of her grandpa's war experience here.
The always-awesome Julie at alittlepregnant linked to a post from a couple years back.
And this one: Dogs welcoming home soldiers. Get the tissues ready.