Here in my home office, I have a series of random items hanging on the wall. They’re collected from experiences I’ve had or items I’ve been given over the years. I have a heavy, wooden tennis racket from the 70’s that was purchased at a garage sale to satisfy the room’s required kitsch factor. I have a few of my youngest daughter’s drawings posted to give her confidence and pride in her abilities.
My M.A.diploma, which sits in a plain black frame, simultaneously reminds me of both personal successes and bittersweet missteps. There’s also a framed group photo of my maternal grandfather’s Army company before they shipped off to fight in World War II. Near it is a frame displaying his medals and patches from his time as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. He’s been gone for well over a decade now, but echoes remain in my mind and in the world around me.
My recollections of my grandfather aren’t well-suited to the kinds of proud, lionizing rhetoric I’ll read or hear about today. He was a retired, confused man by the time I knew him and most of his days were spent drinking, reflecting, shooting gophers from his back porch, or underlining certain phrases in copies of National Geographic and the Reader’s Digest.
It’s hard to imagine him as a young man dropping from the sky, heralding the death of Axis soldiers in Italy and the Netherlands. In a box in my office, I have his war-time Gideon Bible. It’s beaten, aged, and has the names and apartment numbers of women he knew, in the biblical sense, while fighting in Italy. He lived a long and complicated life, filled with contradictions, defeats, and victories.
Yet, his medals rest in their display case on my wall, reminding me that he overcame a struggle that required far more bravery than I’ve ever had to muster for anything. So, on a day like today where we’re meant to honor all who served our country in the military, I think of his service and how his extraordinarily fortunate survival is directly responsible for my existence, not only as a free American, but also as a human being. Continue reading