This month my grandfather will be 94 years old. When he was in his early 20s, the son of two Sicilian immigrants, he joined the US military and fought in World War II. He was stationed in New Guinea, fighting on the Pacific front. A part of the war, that I learned little about growing up. Almost exclusively, aside from Pearl Harbor, I learned in school about the European front. The Nazis. Hitler. I never learned about the horrors the men who fought in the Pacific faced. Horrors that to this day, statistically, crippled the veterans who returned more powerfully than other men who fought in WW II.
I don't mean to minimize anyone's loss or pain. Each and every burden in the face of war is great. I only mean to try and understand what my grandfather, Macy, may have faced. He never spoke about the war, or his role until I was in college. One warm summer day, though, while my family and I visited he and his wife, he began to talk to us about his life as a young man in the war.
|with my Grandpa Macy several years ago|
He told us about the shock of landing on the island and finding the woman there didn't wear shirts, but walked with their breasts bare, ready to feed the babies on their backs. His nickname, Macy, comes from the war. His cousin was stationed nearby him and to avoid confusion with their last name, Mascena, on mail days, he became "Macy". He laughingly told us that he an a few guys, including his cousin, devised a plan to make homemade wine in a unused drum of some sort they found (can you tell we're Italian?) and my grandfather used to hop boats to other camps and secrete the illegal wine to other soldiers. Once he almost got caught, but managed to evade capture!
And with tears in his eyes, and holding the hand of both my sister and I, he told us that he realized that soon he might be gone and no one would know these stories, no one would know the things that made him, him.
That summery day, on the patio of my grandfather's home is something I hold close in my memory. And even more so, now this his own memory has failed him.
I keep those stories close because they remind me that freedom comes at a price. I felt it in the weathered hand of my grandfather who didn't, and perhaps couldn't, talk about his part in our freedom for decades as I grew up. I feel it when I think of my other grandfather, Jim, in the coast guard during the Korean War. And my brother-in-law, a career man in the Navy, who spends months at a time away from my sister and his life here.
As I stood on the sidewalk yesterday, on my lunch break, and watched Boston's Veteran's Day parade march by, I clapped, and waved my flag. I looked at these men and women in the eye and hoped they would know how much I'm thankful for their willingness to serve our country, despite the great cost. I am so thankful.
Happy Veteran's Day.