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.
Letter from Grandpa on my 18th birthday
Grandpa & me at high school graduation
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”
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.