Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why I am Proud to be an American

I meant to write a post to publish yesterday - 4th of July, but life got in the way.  I had a very busy weekend at the farmer's market, tractor show, and a friend's house.  Then on Monday we decided to join my sister, her hubby, and the baby to go see my grandpa who was diagnosed with cancer last week.  It was a long drive up to Oregon, but I am glad that we got to see him and he got to meet the baby for the first time.  It was really hard, sad, and emotional to see him like that but I am glad we went.  So, if you could just pretend that it is yesterday for me that would be great - thanks!

I love 4th of July!  I love seeing people wearing red, white, and blue.  I love seeing our flag proudly displayed on houses and along walkways.  I love eating BBQ and enjoying the company of family and friends.  I am very patriotic and love seeing everyone else patriotic too.  I love this country and am both proud and luck to be an American.

I found a book at my dad's house a few weeks ago "Memories from the Front" was the title and my grandpa and his twin brother were the authors.  I had never seen this book or heard about it before so I borrowed it.  My grandpa and his twin both had a way with words.  When they spoke people listened.  They had the same voice - calm, steady, trustworthy - they had a voice that put me at ease and made we want to listen to it (and their stories) forever.   My grandpa died 5 years ago and his twin (my Uncle John) died a few months ago.  But, as I read the book it was like they were sitting next to me reading it to me.

My grandpa didn't talk about his experience in the war much.  After hearing his story, I understood why.  It was a horrible experience.  But, I had never heard my Uncle John's story.  I remember him saying that he was lucky - he broke his arm and got to go home early.  But, I didn't know that his experience was horrible too - just in a different way.  My uncle John started his story off with the a simple yet very powerful sentence; "Let me tell you how I learned to appreciate freedom."  I told you he had a way with words.  I am not going to tell you the whole story but I will summarize it for you. 

My Uncle John and grandpa were in the same division (28th infantry division) but had to be in different units because of the Sullivan brothers.  My Uncle John described his first night on the front lines as "something out of this world."  He was in many battles.  All suffered great casualties.  By great I mean in his first battle almost 200 men went in and 9 came out.  His final battle was The Battle of the Bulge where he was shot in both arms and taken to hospital tent after hospital tent until finally returning home months later.  My grandpa was taken prisoner by the Germans after a 24 hour artillery barrage and an unsuccessful walk "home."  Out of over 200 people that dug in he was 1 of 7 who walked away.  As the 7 of them walked back 5 of them went across a road (where my grandpa and another solider had to wait for the Germans to pass) and were never heard from again.  They were both taken prisoner.  My grandpa was a prisoner for 156 days.  During that time he lost 90 pounds and survived winter in Germany with the clothes on his back and the little food that was provided to the prisoners.  He was liberated by General Patton's Third Army a month before the German's surrendered.   

My dad was in Vietnam but he doesn' talk about it.  I don't know much about his experience but as far as I know he was a helicopter gunman.  He manned a machine gun on the side of the helicopter and went to the front lines to rescue wounded soldiers.  There are 2 times I can remember him saying something about the war.  Once I asked him if he thinks we were going to win this war on terrorism.  He looked at me and said, "I sure hope not."  I didn't understand why a veteran would say that so I asked him what he meant.  He said that this war reminds him too much of what happened in Vietnam.  He said that we didn't win Vietnam because we wouldn't fight on their level - and he hopes that the military would not fight on the current enemies' levels.  He said that if we do win this war we wouldn't be much better than the terrorists.  The second time was when my grandpa (his dad) was dying of cancer.  The family was talking about death and my grandma said that she had never seen a dead person.  I know this is a weird conversation and I have no idea why we were having it - I remember listening to it and feeling that is was really awkward.  She then looked at my dad (her only son that was in a war) and asked him if he had seen a dead person. He looked at her and said yes, mother I have - too many. She then asked him, well, have you ever killed anyone?  He said what do you think mom.  I told her that she needs to stop because we all know the answer to that. She ignored me and said well, I certainly couldn't kill anyone.  He said well, mom, I did - I had to.  I was so angry at her - how could she say that to her own son! My grandpa was pretty far gone at that point - it was 2 days before he died.  If he was well he would have stopped her from saying those things.  He would always say, "That's enough, Wanda." when she went too far.  I've never pressed my dad to talk about his experience in Vietnam - I could tell that it hurt for him to talk about it. 

My other grandpa (my mom's dad who we visited yesterday) was also in WWII.  He doesn't really talk about it either but he says he had it easy.  As far as I know he was not on the front lines and was a mechanic - I think he fixed planes.  I wish I knew his story. 

I have never experienced loss of freedom or anything like both of my grandpas, my uncle, or my dad but I have experienced the sadness and horror of hearing what happened to them.  I will never take my freedom for granted because I know what they had to do in order for me to be living here and free.  They were all drafted and had horrible experiences yet would do it again. 

I work with an immigrant population and some refuse to say the pledge.  When they ask me why we say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning I tell them that people have died for their right to be in this classroom.  People have died so they could play on the playground without being scared.  When they ask me what it means to say the Pledge I tell them that we say it to thank the people who have fought in our honor and to say that we are thankful to live in a country where we are free to be us. 

As you are eating your BBQ and watching the fireworks this evening (or remembering it from yesterday) please remember that freedom is not free.  Our country has paid a huge cost both in casualties and memories of veterans who lived to tell about.  There are still so many young men and women out there fighting for our continued freedom and I am very thankful to them (included my freind's little brother - thanks Guy, you have turned out to be a great young man) as well! 

Happy fourth of July!  I would love to hear what made you appreciate your freedom.

1 comment:

CICC Outdoor Adventures said...

I would love to read that book Sarah! Thank you for posting this. I am so glad that you guys were able to get up to Oregon to see your Grandpa! I too went out of my way to be sure to spend the 4th of July with my Dad who is also a Vietnam Veteran, after all that is the least I could do for him, right?

Happy Independence Day to you! It is my most favored holiday!