Getting Sentimental on July 3rd

Though I wrote this post 2 years ago, it still is the most appropriate post for July 3rd in honor of my grandpa and all veterans.  Remember those who served and payed the ultimate sacrifice for our country in the midst of all the Independence Day Festivities!

Every year around July 4th (or even on Memorial Day), I get a little sentimental remembering my grandpa, who served in WWII.  Seeing the veterans march in any parade makes me think of him, his incredible stories, silly German phrases, and his sense of fun he’d bring to any occasion. July 3 was his birthday, so naturally he was on my mind.

I came across a letter he wrote me for my 18th birthday (he passed away when I was 21), and it’s as if I can hear his voice saying these things to me.

Though his penmanship is quite lovely, I will type his letter to me:

“Cathy” 18 years old. When I was 18, I was also wearing a uniform. Another year and I was on a boat, the last thing I saw at the time was those beautiful lights all yellow as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. room for standing only we watched untill the seaward fog beat us our lovely site.

Just our luck a few hours in sailing on the Mt. Vernon with 5M troops aboard including 500 sailors. we were hitting land waves. we all got sick. oh well. I ranted enough. Repeat(?) Have a good life. You are old enough to use your own mind in whatever you do. use it. if a problem arises (say a little Prayer (Grand moms idea) it always worked.

Happy Birthday “You all”

(“Southern”)

Oh Grandpa – I can never imagine what it was like to leave high school during your senior year with your best friend to enlist in the Army.  The only uniform I wore was always for sports – usually basketball – unless you count my Brownie sash!  I think the “southern” reference was just him being funny, though he did spend some time in basic training in Louisiana.

My Grandpa served in the 32nd Division – a division that saw 654 days of combat during WWII – more than any other U.S. Army Division.  Originally they were bound for Europe – a place where his German speaking ability would have been put to good use – but they were re-directed to the Pacific, landing in Port Moresby, New Guinea to help fight with the Australian forces. He once told me the division (or outfit as he often said) that went to Europe suffered MANY fatalities (or may not have had any survivors). God certainly works in mysterious ways.

He shared many many stories and memories from his time in service and would often break out his Australian accent at random times to be funny.  I know he endured heavy combat, saved lives, contracted malaria & typhus fever, and said goodbyes to many of his fellow servicemen.  His best friend was injured quite early and went home before him.  I can recall parts of his stories.  As you can imagine, it was difficult for him to share, so I often heard it in bits and pieces.

Upon doing my own research, my grandpa was in New Guinea for the Papua campaign (July 1942 – January 1943), including the battle of Bloody Buna (I remember him saying that), and the New Guinea campaign (January 1943 – December 1944), during which he contracted malaria and typhus fever.  In August 1944 he rode a boat back home, arriving in San Francisco a month later.

On that boat ride, he became friends with another serviceman from Wisconsin, who asked him to stand up in his wedding in October.  He did so, and met the maid of honor, my grandma, who was 40 years old at that time.  They fell in love, despite my Grandma saying, “I’m old enough to be your mother;” to which my grandpa said, “Well, c’mon mother, let’s get married.”  They were married less than 2 years later. At 43 my grandma gave birth to my father – their only child (so poo poo to the idea that you can’t have babies after 35). They were truly blessed with a wonderful, loving family and enjoyed over 50 years of marriage. She was his “Sarge” as he frequently called her.  I was honored to have known him for 21 years.

Between the age of 18 – 26, my grandpa sure experienced quite A LOT!  No wonder why fireworks filling the heavens seem so appropriate on his birthday to celebrate and honor such a beautiful life.

Miss you Grandpa!  I talked to Dad, and he’s drinking a Manhattan in your honor tonight.  Cheers! And I’ll remember to say a little prayer – just like Grandma said.

Want to read more reflections on my family? I remembered my grandpa on my mom’s side – another amazing man in this post.

Memories of Mark

I haven’t written in a while because I just could not be moved to do so.  My family recently said our goodbyes to my grandfather, and we just celebrated his life with family and friends who came to pay their respects at his wake and funeral.

I think my 4-year-old nephew explained it best to his grandma, saying, “Yes, Great-Grandpa is dead, but it’s okay, he’s up in heaven now driving his tractor.” My other nephew, almost 2 years old, who shares my grandpa’s name as a middle name (Mark), just sprung into the arms of my mom for a big hug after she sang a beautiful song during the funeral mass. It is amazing how little ones just know to provide love and comfort during difficult times.

I’d like to share just a few of the MANY memories and stories of my grandpa to honor his 85 years on this earth:

He truly was part of the “silent generation” that shared core values of hard work, respect for authority, loyalty, understood sacrifice and the value of a dollar.  He worked as a farmer for almost 50 years before retiring.

He was one of 12 children – one sister died at a young age – so there were 11 total children. They grew up on a farm with everyone helping out and working hard.

He could speak German, learning it from his parents and grandparents. They would usually speak German when they didn’t want the kids to understand what they were saying. He would re-tell us some of the naughty words that he heard, like “die verdammte Kinder!”

He was a great student, walking quite a distance to school (probably uphill both ways WITHOUT complaint). I remember that he told me about taking classes in farming in high school and more classes about business after high school.  He excelled in school,  actually passing up his older brother, a stubborn joker, who would NOT mind their teachers, moving ahead of him in grade levels.

He didn’t like to dance, so he let his my grandma dance with his brothers, so he “wouldn’t have to push her around the dance floor.” Really Grandpa? You said that?!! Kuddos to Grandma for still dancing!

When my grandparents were married in 1950, my grandma moved to his farm, where he had led the life of a bachelor for several years. He only had 1 fork and 1 spoon, and when he made her eggs, he first gave her the spoon. My grandma refused to use the spoon, so he let her have the fork! My grandma just laughs at this memory and shakes her head every time she retells it. She truly was the one who made their house a home!

He liked joking around and telling stories – often while sitting on the side of the room at family gatherings, just talking one on one with another relative. He made our significant others – the newcomers – feel so welcome. I always liked it when he did something to make Grandma say, “MARK!” in her disapproving, scolding tone. Grandpa’s eyes would get really big, he’d raise his shoulders and cross his arms, and say, “I’m in trouble!”

He loved playing cards – sheepshead – during which brandy slush would be served.

He had some amusing expressions like “slower than molasses in January.”  Apparently, they would pour molasses on the hay as a treat for the cows.  With Wisconsin winters, it certainly poured slowly for several months of the year.

I was so blessed to have shared so many years with him.  Visiting Grandma & Grandpa’s farm while growing up was always a new adventure: playing with the kitties in the barn, petting the calves and seeing the big cows, climbing around the hay mow, sledding and snowmobiling in winter too.  He was there for so many milestones in my life – graduation, wedding, and the births of my two children.  I will always cherish these memories and keep his legacy alive for my own family.  Love you always Grandpa!

My daughter meeting Great-Grandpa at her first Christmas

My daughter meeting her Great-Grandpa at her first Christmas