Monday, May 28, 2012

Because They Gave Their Best

Today is Memorial Day.  I'm a Michigan girl, and in Michigan, Memorial Day Weekend, above all else, meant you went to your lake cottage (if you were lucky to have one) and open it up for the official start of SUMMER!!!

There is still a part of me, that for every Memorial Day Weekend that passes here in Kentucky, wishes she could be part of the masses that travel 23 and 75, heading Up North for a relaxing weekend at the lake.

Aahhh, but there is another reason for Memorial Day Weekend ... a more sobering one ... it's a weekend to remember all that gave their lives, and often times, their souls, for the cause of freedom.  From the American Revolution to the War in Afghanistan, there are veterans all over this great land that have and  are reliving the memories each and every day of the moments they gave their best for the freedom you and I enjoy.

My mind wanders to my grandfather, Charles Murray, who was a veteran of WWII, Pacific Theater, who was one of the lucky ones.  He came back, but I never realized, until I was an adult, and he was gone, that while he hadn't given his life, he had given his best.

My grandfather never talked about his time in the war, other than to mention the nasty c-rations or the jungle rot he got there or boot camp in California.  Occasionally, he would talk about being in Japan after the atomic bombs were dropped and seeing some of the atrocities, but he never went into any detail.  I never heard him talk about battles or the men he served with or the time that he spent away from his family.  As a young high school girl, learning about this history, I could never understand why he wasn't willing to share his history with me ... I even asked my dad once, and his answer was a simple one, "It is just too painful."

As a teenager, whenever I did ask questions, my grandfather always got agitated.  My grandmother seemed to be the one to change the subject, calming him down, and while I thought I got it, it still frustrated me.  I was reading about it in history books, but it wasn't the same as being with an individual that was actually there ... had lived it.

As an adult, I became interested in his story from a writer's point of view.  I even asked my grandmother once if I could read the letters he sent her while he was away, thinking perhaps I could write something from that point of view.  She told me that when he got home, he made her burn every last one them.

"Grandpa, that was such a rich legacy.  Why did you make her do that?"  I asked.

"Who wants to keep all that crap!?"  He practically shouted.  And then, more quietly, "It was just not worth keeping."

It was the closest he'd ever come to talking to me about the war.

I remember being Up North with my grandparents and parents ... we were all at church ... it was probably during Memorial Day Weekend ... maybe Fourth of July ... and the pastor announced that they were going to recognize our veterans. As they called for Army veterans to stand, my grandfather reluctantly stood, and I watched my grandmother dab her eyes with a Kleenex.  She had given her best as well.

My grandfather was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star a few years back.  We are not completely sure why -- I guess the Veterans Affairs folks are so back-logged, they don't have time to hand out the specifics. I doubt Grandpa would have ever discussed anything that he or his platoon did to achieve such an honor.

I believe my grandfather's goal, when he finally set foot on US soil again, was to just to live a normal life ... as normal a life as one can live when the scenes of war are constantly on replay in your memory.  He did as good a job as I think he was able to given the circumstances.  He was part of the Greatest Generation.

He and my grandmother are both in Heaven now, and I know that his memories of war are all gone.  He has true and complete peace, and he has finally realized his eternal best.

This Memorial Day, among the grilling and picnics and fun and water, take a moment to tip your hat to the Greatest Generation, and those generations that came after, all of whom gave their physical best.

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