Holidays recognizing veterans, including Memorial Day, bring back very specific memories for me. My best guess is that it was either the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday of 1981. Family gathered at Grandma and Grandpa Gunter’s house to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. I only remember because I had brought a book from the school library. It was a school I had only attended for part of one year. The book was about the North Africa Campaign during World War II. At some point, I was asking questions that triggered an amazing conversation.
My grandfather took my interest in World War II and turned it into a personal relationship. I listened intently into the early morning hours to his stories of his service in the Pacific as a crew member on board the U.S.S. Salt Lake City. I had seen his navy photograph, but this was the first and only time he shared his experience with me. My grandmother would later tell me that he never told her many of the stories.
I remember, very vividly, Grandpa putting in VHS tapes and playing portions of documentaries or even John Wayne movies. He was seeking out those brief glimpses of his ship that could be found in short clips. I could tell he was proud of his service, that this was an important part of his life. This memory became deeply ingrained in my young mind. There are few life moments that I recall as vividly.
I think it was this single event that cemented my love of history and my appreciation for those who serve. Over the years, I have read and listened to far more horrific accounts of battle. For some reason, this Memorial Day has hit me far harder than they usually do and I’m not sure what to think about it.
One thing I know for sure: My “suffering” is made more joyous because our soldiers have always stood in the breach in the name of freedom.
The image accompanying this post is of the memorial depicting Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Massachusets Volunteer Infantry. If you are not familiar with their story, I encourage you to watch the 1989 movie, “Glory“. In my opinion, this should be required viewing.