On this Memorial Day, I first and foremost want to give a prayer for, remember and give deep thanks to those who gave so much of themselves in defense of not only the U.S., but for her ideals and basic tenets in general. Thanks to the 1,000’s of men and women who sacrificed all, I am able to write these words freely and openly, again one of the basic rights we as a country stand for and they all defended.
I’m going to try here not to be political, but I want to get a bit personal as to the meaning of this day for me. As we all know, many look at this as a BBQ day and not much else. So goes our society here. And of course we have the many of who truly honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so all can live in a free country. While I whole heartedly subscribe to the second example here, I also always want to remember those who came back. Maybe it’s just me, but I never feel enough credit is given to those who after the war were able to live and work as normal, raising families and so on yet in many ways no one realizes the incredible sacrifices they made and in turn not only the scars carried by those who were injured in some way but the horrible psychological scars and pain they carried through their lives.
In the past, I have mentioned my 4 fathers. They were all great men in their own right and each carried deep seated scars or worse due their war experiences. They never complained per say, but it was there and they were affected by it.
My father, Leon Larson, was a warm man and unfortunately an alcoholic. Let me preface this quickly. I am not blaming the war for his affliction. However, I do believe what he went through did have some effect as to the extent of it. Now having said that, my dad was a gunner in a flying fortress over Germany. He never would talk about it until not to long before he disappeared from my life and we in fact did not hear from him again. We were watching 12 o’clock High when I looked over and saw him shaking uncontrollably. After the movie, I asked him what was wrong and for the first time in my life I began to understand sacrifice and more.
For those who have seen that movie or more, there is a scene, not graphic in the sense that they were filmed so one could see, but graphic none the less. At the beginning, the Adjutant brings and arm wrapped in a blanket out of a plane just returned from a mission, the owner of that arm having been pushed out of the plane on a chute, hopefully still alive. The co-pilot then describes how the pilot, with the back of his head shot of was still trying to fly the plane to the end of the mission.
My father than proceeded to tell me not only how true the depiction was in the move, but also about things like seeing his fellow gunners sliced to bits or worse. For example, he told me of a gunner with 3 bullets in him who kept shooting as the blood immediately froze due to the severe cold conditions they operated him and much worse. The horrors he saw and experienced were real and one can only imagine the deep mental wounds they carried with them through their lives. And that in my view is also a sacrifice, the sacrifice of innocence or worse. The last thing he said that day was simple. “Please don’t F… this up”. I understood what he meant.
My first Step father, Carl Brandon was wounded in the Pacific. He never talked much about it, but the few times he did, he always reminded me that was is in fact horrible. He really wouldn’t go far beyond that, but I do know he was proud of his service and his country.
My second step father, Art Antonian was a jovial sort of guy, yet carried a heavy mental scar from the war and in turn I was fortunate enough to have a horrible reality slammed into my head by someone who was there. It took some years before he would talk about it (see the recurring trend here? They had so much trouble talking about it and in turn carried heavy burdens and scars) You see, Art was one of those men who liberated Buchenwald. When he finally did talk to me about it I remember the tears and the shaking as he related horror after horror he personally witnessed. Again, the scars were real although no one could really see them. That is sacrifice and worse.
Finally there is Frank Lantz. I left home at 17 to be on the race track. Frank was a trainer who in turn became so much more than an employer. He was as much and sometimes more of a father to me than I sometimes wanted to admit. He gave me the work ethic I now have and more as he always reminded me to Honor God and Country. He was a radioman on destroyers in the Pacific and it is my understanding he had at least one shot out from under him. Again, he was a man who was proud to have served and saw far too many of his friends and comrades give the ultimate. As with the others, his scars were real and in turn so were his sacrifices.
All four of these wonderful men are now dead so I guess in one sense I honor them under the "Memorial Day" idea. All four are heroes and more in my eyes. While they did not suffer the ultimate sacrifice at any particular moment during the war, the pain and suffering, be it from wounds or mentally were real and their anguish as I saw it was sometimes almost unbearable.
As such, on this day I honor not only those who fell for our country but also as well as those who gave and continue to give their lives and more in defense of the greatest country on earth. My love, gratitude and heart go out to all.
I leave you today with the words of the greatest President of my generation from 2 Memorial Day Speeches. Love of Country and Honor is something that is need more than ever now and luckily we have his words to fill the void of leadership now evidenced in this country, a void which is a slap in the face to every man and woman who gave their lives to this great nation!
God Bless our service men and women and deepest thanks from the bottom of my heart!