My grandfather was a World War II veteran. I don’t know a lot about his time in the service as he never talked about it. I do know that he was haunted by his experiences there and would jump at any sudden loud noise and often woke with a start if I tried to rouse him from a nap in his favorite chair.
I have a very vivid memory of attending a bi-centennial celebration in 1976 at Fort Griswold in New London, CT. A battle reenactment began and soldiers representing both sides began firing blanks. With each shot, my grandfather cringed as if he was on the receiving end of the imaginary bullet. I asked him why we were there, if it made him so uncomfortable. In his typical brusk manner he replied, “Because it’s important to remember.” That was the most I ever heard from him on the subject of war.
He limped due to a leg injury but never complained about it. Recently, I learned that he fought in and survived the Battle of Anzio only to be shot in the leg while evacuating his tank after encountering an ambush on his way back to Rome. While going through my grandparents’ things after their passing, we came across letters he wrote to my grandmother while he was away and were amazed at the eloquence he showed in his writing. We even discovered a poem he had crafted about one of the forts he had been stationed at.
My grandfather passed away in 1989, long before the World War II Memorial was built. I’m not sure what his thoughts on it would be. He was so hesitant to speak of the war, but I have to think he would have appreciated the opportunity to see it if given the chance.
Unfortunately, many World War II vets are passing away (at a rate of 900 each day) before having the opportunity to see the memorial in Washington D.C. constructed in their honor. Stars and Stripes Honor Flight has been working since 2008 to make sure that these vets have the chance to see the World War II Memorial. They fly the vets (with an assigned guardian to assist them) to Washington D.C. and transport them to see the WWII Memorial and other significant memorials. The arrivals at the airport begin at 4:30 am and flights typically get back between 8 and 9 pm that evening.
We had the opportunity to attend the arrival of the two flights that traveled October 8th with 213 veterans aboard. It was an absolutely humbling experience. The joy and gratitude on the faces of the vets as them came off the plane was moving. I also had the chance to talk to Ellie whose father, daughter, and son were on the flight. She did a great job explaining what it meant to her family.