Friday, March 31, 2006

True American Heroes

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I was reading over at Sgt. Hook's place earlier today and I came across this post. It got me to thinking and remembering...

It brought back childhood memories of a neighbor of my parents named Robert. His father was a China Marine and Robert was an army man himself. His father was long gone by this point, but he used to tell me stories of his time overseas and of his father's. His father (Robert Sr.) survived the Battan Death March and time as a POW. His words instilled a deep respect in me from a very young age. It also helped me understand my own grandfathers' experiences.

One of my grandfathers was in the Army Air Corps and then career Air Force. He was in WWII and Korea. He's seen some pretty horrific things in his life and he's always been very tight-lipped about his experiences. He served at Guadalcanal and to this day can't go to the beach...he doesn't see ocean and sand.

Because of Robert's stories and my own reading, I managed to learn enough to be able to ask my grandfather specific questions...questions he sometimes even answered. I wish I knew more about him and his life, but he still keeps that whole time very close to himself. He's of the generation that was taught that whatever they did or saw should just be put behind them. He once told me that in truth, no one wanted to hear what he'd been through. It's taken all my life so far to help him understand otherwise. He's still plagued by demons past.

I remember that when Saving Private Ryan came out, I went to the theatre with my mom to watch it. I sobbed through most of the movie and immediately after it ended, I called my grandpa. I just wanted to hear his voice and to tell him thank you and that I loved him. It took him completely by surprise and he broke down just a little. But it was good for him to know that I care and I think his stories and experiences are important.

This line of communication expanded a bit when Clark was deployed. My grandpa took an active interest in what was going on with Clark and how he was faring. It was the only time in my life that my grandpa actually asked me if there were any questions I had about deployment. He wouldn't say too much, but what little insight he did share I hold very dear.

I actually always saw a lot of my grandpa in Clark...right down to the same flashing eyes and the stubborn set to the jaw when they've decided to dig in their heels...unforetunately, they share the same demons as well. I just hope Clark doesn't keep the pain so close for as long.

As for my grandpa, his is a sad story and far too common, but there is hope. Slowly, year by year, his walls are coming down. He allows himself the emotions that he kept bottled for more than 50 years. I know he'll never shake free completely, and that's okay. At least he's learning that other people have forgiven him...and perhaps someday, he'll be able to forgive himself.