My wife’s grandfather is a World War II veteran. He was first scout in General Patton’s division and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He is 87 years old and seems to be in good health. He stands about 5’1 and when you see him you would never believe that he was an American warrior, but he was. He pushed through Germany and liberated Holocaust victims. When he tells of those stories is when he usually breaks down a bit. He remembers it and can see the ovens and mounds of corpses. He can still smell the stench of death and there is no doubt that the war changed him.
The stories of his friends dying are also uneasy. How he could be sitting there eating and talking to a buddy and turn to get a drink and a mortar go off above his head decapitating his friend instantly. He grew used to death. He slept in foxholes with dead germans, saw corpses decay, and used them for shields. It was a lifestyle he got used to because that is how he survived.
Even when he returned home the war wasn’t over. He said that for the first year he had a hard time returning to a normal life. It was hard to get used to the silence at night. Everything was different. When someone would knock on his door he would jolt out of bed and find cover, just as he had during the war. Only that wasn’t a mortar going off, but his mother waking him for breakfast. It is a typical story of a veteran, but one that needs to be remembered and not forgotten.
Fred was one of the lucky ones because he didn’t mind talking about the war which was therapeutic for him. He does not mind talking about the death he witnessed or what he felt during those times. That has helped him. He went on to have a large family. A marriage that produced seven children and numerous grandkids. When my son was a few months old we were at a family event and he walked up and said, “which one is this?” and I couldn’t help but chuckle. He is the patriarch of his family and his family is now over 50 people. I have never seen a man so revered by his loved ones. His soft mannerisms and polite disposition would never bring you think of him mowing down NAZI’s or sniping Italians.
I guess he has changed since then.