Those That Came Before


I mentioned earlier that my family is visiting right now. My father, my mother, and my 93 year old grandmother all flew in from California to see us for two weeks. We're at the tail end of that whirlwind visit (they leave Sunday) and it's been interesting, to say the least.

First off - my Grandmother was a military spouse during WWII. We've been talking a lot about her experiences while she has been here, and our visits to the various monuments and museums around the Washington, DC area has been a treasure trove of information (and yes, my 93 year old grandmother actually walked a three mile monument loop and then walked all through the Smithsonian and Udvar Hazy!).

For instance, we were talking about deployments...

and my Grandmother was lamenting the fact that Air Force Guy will be taking off for another deployment this summer. Now, she was lamenting that fact to me, but when pushed for details my Grandmother admitted that for nearly three years while my Grandfather was in the Pacific Theater she didn't see him or get one single phone call from him! I mean, you couldn't just pick up a phone and call someone from Okinawa or Guam then (that's where Pop ended up). They didn't have email, and my grandfather was really never much of a letter writer.

Then my Grandmother complimented me on the renovating of our house that I'd gotten done on my own while AFG was gone on his last 6 month TDY. Once again, when pushed for details my Grandmother talked about how she kept my grandparent's farm running while Pop was overseas. In fact, when we asked her how she felt when she heard about the atomic bombs dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (keep in mind where my Grandfather was stationed at the time) and she told us, "Oh, well I didn't really care. See, the neighbor came over to tell me about it while I was fixing the roof of the tack room and I had stuff I had to finish right then."

Oh. My. Goodness. I can't imagine hearing about some enormous new end-of-the-world weapon going off in the general vicinity where my husband was after I hadn't seen him for over two years and thinking, "Well, I've got to get this tack room done or all the harnesses will rot into oblivion before spring harvest!"

But my Grandmother did it. And she did it well, too. She brought their farm through The Depression, then she brought it through the war. She fixed floors, roofs, plumbing, and survived a flood that devastated their farm and house.

My grandmother also told me that she thought she had it easier than I do as a military spouse in wartime because, she said, "Everyone around me had family serving back then. Everyone understood."

I can see where she's coming from on that one, but when everyone around you has people serving and you couple that with the casualties incurred in World War II, that means you are surrounded by tragic stories. I'm not sure I could mentally cope with that.

For instance, my family has always been close with cousins. Two of my grandmother's close cousins were married and their husbands had shipped off to war also. Not too long before D-Day (which of course no one knew about at the time), Grandma's cousin Helen's husband (who was a pilot) was reported missing and presumed dead over France. Helen was pregnant at the time. My Grandmother was one of the family members who stepped up to help, and I can't imagine how she felt doing that as her own husband was busy flying around the Pacific.

Several months later, Helen delivered a beautiful baby boy. A few months later Helen received a phone call from Los Angeles - it was her husband. He had survived, and the story was incredible. He had been found by a French family who had hid him in their attic from the Nazis until the Allies reached the area in force.

Can you imagine? And yet Helen and her husband came through strong and had a long and loving marriage.

My Grandfather came home, too. And later, when both my Grandmother's sons were in Vietnam at the same time - they both came home as well. Her grandson came home from Bosnia and Iraq, and her grandson-in-law came home from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My grandmother has been through a lot, but she considers herself tremendously lucky.

I get a lot of strength from listening to and remembering my Grandmother's story. It adds a level of perspective to the life our family has chosen, and it gives me something to live up to.

So few of the American public are actually connected meaningfully to the military today that it can be hard for us to find people to look up to - people who have come before and lived through it. People we can try to emulate and live up to.

I think I'm pretty lucky. I have my Grandmother.

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