My grandfather had this small cedar box under his bed. The box had a few odds and ends like buffalo nickels and liberty dimes, arrowheads. He showed me the contents from time to time. It also had his infantry pin from his WWII uniform. My grandfather fought in the Pacific theater, hopping from island to island trying to push back the Japanese forces.
It wasn’t until later that I understood what the bronze star with little palm leaves were. When my grandfather would, in moments of contemplation, tell me stories about the War. About not taking his shoes off for weeks at a time. About waves of Japanese soldiers that just would not stop coming over the wire. He told me about hot, nasty, mean islands in the Pacific infested with soldiers who were out of ammo but would jump screaming from trees to try and kill him. He told me horror stories about the Philippine Islands. There was this picture, of my grandfather and a small asian man in the Philippene island. He told me about how he fought with that man to free the islands.
These stories were told to me during the 1980’s when the war had been over for 40 years. I still remember tears in the eyes of a man I thought of as a real tough guy. Tears about friends he had lost and men he had killed in the name of freedom. That war changed everyone who served in it. They had to live with the horror for the rest of their lives. Most, like my grandfather, bore their burdens, mostly in silence, with only rare glimpses into what they really experienced.
He was a man who married a young lady from Anniston, Alabama and then 3 weeks later, left her for 19 months. He and four of his brothers. Four left and Four came home. My grandmother told me stories of my great grandmother Nellie Coon kneeling beside a lighter knot stump in a cornfield and praying for her sons to come home. Prayers that could be heard for miles around. Those prayers worked.
There were other medals and citations for valor that I did not know about or understand at the time. All I do know is that when asked, my grandfather and his brothers all stepped up. They went and fought, and won, and the world is better for it.
So, even though we have thousands of veterans of more recent conflicts and they all deserve our respect and honor, It is my grandfather that I think about on Veterans Day. I wish I had been able to have him around for longer than I did. There are not a lot of those WWII veterans around. Next time you see one, shake their hand. Look them in the eye and say, “That was a hell of a thing you guys did, saving the world and all. Thanks for that.”