Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Thank You

(Grandpa Russ)

I have two grandfathers who fought in World War II. One of them, actually my step-grandfather, has spent the last month and a half in rehab after some health problems.  He's not happy there, it's not his home.  So we visit him often and ask him to tell us stories about his life.  He's told us some of his war stories. They are at the same time both interesting and horrifying. He barely touches on the part where he landed on the beach on D-Day. He said he could not even begin to describe the things he saw, other than there were hundreds and hundreds of bodies lying in the sand and the water. I'm guessing the scenes from Saving Private Ryan barely touched on the reality of what those men experienced that day. Despite the nightmarish memories that were part of his experiences as a soldier, Grandpa Russ shares some good experiences too and very fond memories of the years after the war that he spent working for the Veterans Administration in Idaho. That's where he met my grandmother. ; )

I have never met my other grandfather. It's a long story. Suffice it to say that he chose to isolate himself from his family and my mother has not seen him since she left home as a teenager during one of his rages. Now he lives about 30 minutes from where I recently moved and I have to make the decision about whether or not to try to establish a relationship with him. He flew bombing missions during the war. Apparently his experiences were pretty harrowing too, as my mom talks about episodes he had after the war that lead me to believe he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His issues were so severe that in the end my grandmother had to leave him for her safety and the safety of her son. My mother had already moved out by then. So I don't know alot about him, other than the fact that my mom says he was such a fun person to be around when she was little and she remembers a very different person than the man he became later in her life.

Why am I telling you all this? I guess I'm pointing out the contrast in how each man was able to handle the experience of war. One managed to find coping skills that allowed him to get on with his life. Will the memories ever go away? No. They are a part of who he is now. But he was able to comparmentalize and put those painful thoughts in a box in his brain somewhere where he didn't have to face them all of the time so he could work and focus on raising his family.   He is such a good man and accepted us as his own grandkids from the minute we met him. 

Grandpa Bill( I guess that's what I would call him), my mother's real father, obviously had a harder time putting those memories to rest and they affected his ability to raise his family and lead a happy life.  His family suffered greatly because of that. And so began the dysfunction that has impacted more than one generation.  It makes me wonder if things would be different for us now had people known about PTSD back then and had he been able to get help in dealing with his emotional trauma. Doesn't matter I guess. We can't go back and change things.

We can change things going forward though. We can ensure that there coninue to be programs and tools available for our warriors, so that regardless of what stage in life they find themselves, they and their families will have the necessary skills and ability to cope. Please donate your time or your dollars to a worthy nonprofit that supports our military families. The burden they carry is heavy to bear. Let's do all we can to let them know that we are willing to help lift that burden however and whenever we can.

From our family to the many veterans and military families stationed all over the world: We value your service and sacrifices and are grateful for your willingness to endure whatever hardships with with you are faced to serve this wonderful country.   Thank you. 


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