This is a picture-free post, and also a rather serious one. You've been warned.
I want to thank all of the service members in my life, both veterans and active duty. You all put your lives on the line for us and for the freedoms we enjoy, and that debt can never be repaid. I hate that we only have 1 day a year to celebrate you, so I try to remember to thank you when I get a chance. I also think it's so important to remember where we came from as a family, and I want to make sure I write this down to share with Gabby some day.
*Note: these are the facts as I understand them. Family, please feel free to post in the comments if I've gotten something wrong!*
My family is well-represented in the military. My Grandpa Pechenino fought in Italy during WWII. He told me a story a few years ago about how after Italy was liberated, he got a pass to visit his extended family who still lived in Italy (he's first generation American). He traveled to see them for a few weeks, and when he got back to the base, it was gone! They had changed the location without telling him! He had to ask the locals (thank goodness he spoke Italian!) and hitchhike around quite a bit before he was able to find his unit again. He also ran foot races for the army during that time (since he ran track in high school), but he got his butt kicked by the other runners! He never talks about the war itself, but he loves to reminisce about his time after the fighting stopped.
That seems to be a theme in my family--no serviceman (and they are all men) talks about the war itself. My Grandpa Stoehr was in the air force between WWII and Korea, as was my great uncle Jerry. Jerry ended up staying in the air force and then the reserves until he retired about 15 years ago, so he went through Korea, Vietnam and all of the Cold War. My great uncle Sam was also in the air force, but a bit later between Korea and Vietnam, although he ultimately went to Vietnam as well. My uncle Gary and my father were both in Vietnam--my uncle in the air force, and my father in the army. My father was drafted while he was in college, and just decided to go instead of staying in school and getting the education waver. None of these men ever really talked about the fighting. My father would just say it was horrible when asked. I know he still thinks about being in Vietnam, as I remember him having nightmares about the war several times a week when I was little. He also reads all of the books on Vietnam that he can find--I can't really recall him reading anything else as I was growing up! The only stories I've heard are about the rats the size of small dogs that could sniff out open food anywhere it was hidden (even chewing through several layers of canvas and clothing if you hid it in your duffel bag. Grandma Pechenino told me that he would write home and ask to not have things like chips sent, since he didn't get to enjoy them between the rats and the humidity turning everything into a moldy mess days after opening. He asked for canned goods and lots of socks instead. She also said that he would wear night vision goggles on his night watches and see all of the animals that were lurking in the jungle. He was in the artillery, so not really front-line, per se, but as we all know, front lines during guerrilla wars are very hard to define.
My cousin is currently stationed at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, proudly
carrying on the family tradition. He is a true hero, as are all of the
members of my family who have served for our freedom.
I know Brian's family has military service in its history, but I know much less about it. His Grandpa Rollinson was in the Canadian army during WWII, and I'm pretty sure he fought in Italy/North Africa. His uncle Jim was in the service during Vietnam, but he went on leave before deployment and his unit shipped out without him! His orders were then changed, and he ended up spending the war in Japan and Korea. Brian's dad and uncle Rob were in the reserves during Vietnam, and didn't see any action. However, his father never stopped worrying about going to war--as his Alzheimer's progressed, he would have days in which he was frantic with worry that he was going to be sent to Vietnam.
Brian's father's worry more than anything should remind us that war really is hell. But more importantly, they illustrate the mental and physical toll that war (even the looming spectrum of going to war) can take on a person. The images that are collected by veterans during their service never really go away. It's for this reason that it is so important to not only thank, but also support our service men and women. They see and sometimes do these horrible things in order to secure our (and in recent years others') freedom. For every successful reintegration into society like Grandpa Pechenino's (he went to college on the GI bill, earned his bachelor's and master's in education and became a well-loved high school principal), there are so many others who are never able to leave the war behind.
So thank you, veterans. Thank you so much for risking your health (mental and physical) and your lives. We owe you more than we can possibly pay back.