A Little Late to the Party

| Thursday, July 8
Because I had other posts I needed/wanted to make after I got back from visiting my grandparents over the Fourth of July weekend, my patriotic post had to wait.

Over the weekend, my grandpa, who is almost 86 years old, and who has advanced Parkinson's Disease, and isn't always very lucid, got incredibly excited about showing us a Memorial Garden in the township his family and my mom's family had grown up in.

A few months ago, my aunt, who had been visiting from California, discovered that the township had laid engraved pavers for everyone from the town who'd been killed in military service, and family members could purchase pavers for anyone else who had served but not died in active service.  She shared this information with other family members in the area.

My grandpa's oldest brother was killed in France when his Jeep exploded early in World War II. Then my grandpa and his brother who was not quite a year younger than he enlisted. By the end of WWII, Grandpa had attained the rank of Technical Sergeant. At the time, it was the third-highest rank for an enlisted soldier. He never did talk much about his experiences to the family, but he gave my oldest cousin a Nazi helmet he brought home from Germany.

Then, one day, when I was about 19, we were watching some made-for-TV-movie about Anne Frank, and my grandpa started telling me about how his unit marched from Marseilles, France through southern Germany, through the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy in 1945 and how they liberated a concentration camp somewhere around Munich. He kinda glazed over, and then started telling me details that I'll never forget - the skeletal appearances of the prisoners, the way they were too afraid to be liberated, the overwhelming smells, how the prisoners tried to steal the GIs' weapons to attack the Nazi guards... After he shared those harrowing experiences with me, my grandma, who had been listening from the kitchen, pulled me aside and told me he hadn't told anyone about that other than her, to her knowledge, since the end of the War.

I felt honored that he chose to share those memories with me, and I feel it only appropriate to honor my grandfather with this belated Independence Day post. Thanks, Grandpa, for defending our freedom!


Eleni said...

Wow, that's quite a story. Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, but I don't think they have any stories like that--neither of them helped liberate a concentration camp. One of my grandfathers, who was in the navy, died before I was born, so I never had a chance to ask him anything. But maybe I should try to learn more about my other grandfather's experiences in the war--he was a medical officer.

Kara said...

You definitely should ask him about his experiences if he's willing to share him. The memories of this generation are getting lost all too quickly. Most of them, sadly, will be gone before long.

Will said...

Moving post, Kara. You are fortunate that he was able to open up to you about it. My grandfather served in the pacific, and it scarred him deeply. Looking back, I can see how much it shaped his personality and habits. He never talked about it, and I never really found out until his funeral.

I would give almost anything for an afternoon with him to learn about that part of his life.

RAY J said...

Awww that's sooo neat! I think old people are so cute when they get so excited over something!

Sounds like you had a really special time with your grandpa!

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