Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

We took advantage of the day off today to take a trip to the zoo, but I want to write about something a little different on this day.

I come from a military family. I know that to most people, that means that you have a parent in one of the branches, but our family takes it to an extreme. For that matter, so does my husband's. Between the two of them, we have 11 service members that I just thought of off the top of my head, 5 of whom are either parents or siblings. Whenever we go to military concerts and the service song medley is played, I stand pretty much the whole time (I get to sit during "Semper Paratus" and, since my aunt and uncle divorced, "Anchors Aweigh"). Some are still active duty - my oldest BIL just came home in July after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan - but all have sacrificed. My maternal grandfather sacrificed more than most.

Pop-Pop was born in 1914 in a tiny coal town in Pennsylvania. He was the oldest of 12 kids (some didn't live very long) born to a Lemko immigrant family. He was actually born Vasily Gyorgy Troyanosky, but they changed it to William George to become "real" Americans (though Basil would have been a more accurate switch). I was told that once the Depression hit, he started riding the rails looking for work and ended up getting caught. He was given a choice: go to jail or join the Army. So join the Army he did. Of course, once Pearl Harbor happened and America went to war with the Japanese, it seemed that perhaps joining the Army was the worse choice, because he was sent to the Philippines.


Specifically, he was sent to Corregidor. After a 5 month seige (during which he apparently kept a diary - need to contact the MacArthur Memorial Archives to see if I can get a copy), the Allied troops surrendered and were taken prisoner by the Japanese. They spent the next 40 months in captivity, and in my grandfather's case, that meant working in copper mines, eating small portions of rice and supplementing it with whatever rats or mice they could catch so they didn't starve, trying not to get any number of deadly diseases, and enduring the absolute brutality of the Japanese military guards. After he and the others were freed, he still bore scarred lungs from the mines and probably PTSD from the battle and the POW camps (my mom remembers hearing yelling while he was sleeping).

And yet, Pop-Pop didn't take his Purple Heart and peace out. He could have decided that he'd given enough - his health, his freedom, his time. Instead, he stayed in for almost 20 more years before retiring from active duty, and stayed for another 20 after that at the Pentagon doing who knows what before completely stopping working.

In an interesting turn of events, we were stationed in Japan during the mid/late '80s and my sister was born there. My mom's parents of course wanted to go to visit their new granddaughter and provide support to their daughter while she recovered, but Pop-Pop's previous experiences made it...difficult, shall we say, to make the decision to go. He finally decided that he could handle making the trip and filled out the application for a visa. When answering "reason for previous visit," he wrote "guest of the emperor."

They approved the visa.

A picture of a picture of my brother, my grandfather, and myself in Japan when he came to visit.

When he got to Japan for the first time in over 40 years, my grandparents were surprised to find that the older Japanese gentleman working customs just ushered them through, and the older Japanese woman at the hotel desk just kept her head lowered while the younger one helped them. It wasn't until they were about to finish checking in that my grandmother realized Pop-Pop was wearing his bolo tie with the "Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor" crest. Whoops.

Not sure if they immediately understood, but I'd be pretty embarrassed if I were in their shoes, too.

I always hated WWII units in history because the Pacific theater is woefully neglected. I understand that there's a lot of material to get through, but it seems like everyone is focused on Hitler and Nazi Germany and the Holocaust at the expense of the fighting on the other side of the world. Most of the time, it was a bomb to bomb jump - Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima with pretty much nothing in between. My high school kids just looked at me blankly when I mentioned the Bataan Death March one day. It made (and makes) me angry that men like my grandfather and their sacrifices and experiences were practically ignored or erased.

So I make it my goal to make sure that people know about his service and the service of his fallen brothers in arms. A student looked up the Death March the evening after I mentioned it and he was horrified at what he read. People need to be shocked by these tales, because if they are numb to them, we risk becoming just as bad. I can only hope that an entire half of the war isn't forgotten, because the veterans who served are very quickly disappearing. That defenders group I mentioned earlier doesn't exist anymore because of the rate of survivors dying. It's now a descendants group.

Pop-Pop rests in Arlington, buried with honors and surrounded by others with the same. While no one can live forever, at least the consequences of their actions can. I mentioned to a native Filipina coworker that my grandfather fought at Corregidor and she gave me a hug and almost burst into tears. If everyone was as appreciative of our vets, the world would be a better place.

He probably would have lived a lot longer had he not been a POW - his closest sister lived to be 92.

And appreciate the people who are in now. Even if you don't agree with any of the reasons our military might be involved in anything, support THEM. Support their families. Give them a smile if they're out in uniform (if you think they have time, thank them, but not glaring at them is nice, too). Invite them over if they've recently PCSed (moved) into your neighborhood and they have to start over again with friends. Offer to take the kids off the hands of a spouse of a deployed soldier's hands for a night so s/he can get a break from being a single parent. Try not to drop by without calling first - an unexpected knock at the door puts a pit in the stomach of every spouse or parent of a deployed person. Don't ask about their deployments if you think they either can't or won't want to talk about it (do not ask if they've killed anyone!!!). And pray, pray, pray for them. The stress of frequent moves and being apart from friends and family puts a huge strain on their relationships. It takes its toll on the best of marital relationships. And this is saying nothing of the physical safety and psychological health of a deployed service member.

So, to the members of our armed forces: Go Army, Fly-Fight-Win, Semper Fi, Semper Paratus, and Fair Winds and Following Seas. We are here for you because you are there for us.

Even if you have an Afghanistache. Heyyyy, brother.

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