That’s my grandfather, a career Army officer who graduated from West Point and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1946 and retired as a Brigadier General in 1975. He served in Korea in 1950 and in Vietnam in 1969, with other postings in Germany, Illinois, New York, Virginia, etc. Without a doubt he’s the veteran I knew the best and was closest to, though I’ve been fortunate to know many wonderful people who have been in uniform. When Veteran’s Day rolls around each year though I can’t help but think of him first.
I was born not quite ten years after his retirement and I remember my grandfather’s office in Schoharie, NY, off of the main part of the house, sort of behind the garage. It was at the end of a hallway, decorated with prints of different eras of cadet uniforms and some sketches/cartoons of a soldier who shared a passing resemblance to him (particularly his distinctive nose). I remember the sword hanging on his wall, one that was given to him as a retirement gift. I can see him in his high-backed office chair reading his West Point alumni newsletter or going through his mail. Without meaning to be, at nearly six feet four inches and with a deep deep voice, he could be very intimidating to an eight year old going in to that office to peer curiously at the sword or other curios, though I recall him being very happy to tell me about something on his wall or to pull out a USMA yearbook to show me a picture and tell me a story.
When he was older his tall frame hunched a little more, the deep voice had a little shakiness to it and he had moved into a retirement community outside Rochester, and I would find myself popping in to take him to lunch when I was in town on business. Over drinks I would ask him about his service, what it was like at West Point during World War II, what was his experience working at the Pentagon, things like that. When I returned from a trip to Germany with a friend I recall spending a lot of time with him talking about his time there. When we realized the hostel I’d stayed in, while only blocks from where he had been, was a part of the city he’d never seen, on the other side of the Berlin Wall and we couldn’t help but marvel at how the world had changed.
When he died my family returned to West Point for his funeral. It was a special place for him- he was a student there, later a teacher, and was married to my grandmother there. I managed to keep my composure through most of the service, but lost it when the cannon fired, echoing through the Hudson Valley, and Taps began to play. West Point’s motto is “Duty, Honor, Country” and my grandfather was the embodiment of those words.
All of our veterans give of themselves when they join the military. So do their families. He spent weeks and months away from his family on different postings. Every year or so they’d uproot and move to some other base, some other city and some other school. Sometimes my mom and her siblings would need to be split up and sent to stay with aunts, uncles and cousins during moves. It wasn’t easy to raise five children on an Army salary and so my mom would often wear hand-me-downs that were themselves hand-me-downs from cousins and her two sisters. My grandfather contracted a tropical fever at some point (probably in Vietnam) and it came back periodically throughout the rest of his life, laying him low each time.
So today I’m thinking of him, missing him, and hoping that if there’s a veteran who’s special to you in the way he was for me, you let them know. And, if the mood should strike you, look into some additional ways you can help veterans:
- Give An Hour – Give an Hour™ is a nonprofit 501(c)(3), founded in September 2005 by Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area. The organization’s mission is to develop national networks of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within our society. Currently, GAH is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of the troops and families affected by the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We provide counseling to individuals, couples and families, and children and adolescents.
- Wounded Warrior Project – Everyone’s recovery process is different. Depending where you are in your own rehabilitative and transitional process, we hope you find a program that fits you and/or your family’s needs. As we continue to discover the ever-evolving needs of you and your fellow Wounded Warriors, WWP programs are also ever-evolving, so check back often to see what’s new at Wounded Warrior Project®(WWP).
- Hire Heroes USA – Hire Heroes USA has built a national reputation of excellence for helping veterans find jobs, currently at the rate of more than 60 veterans confirmed hired every week. Thanks to the tax free contributions of generous donors and funders, our services are provided at no cost to the transitioning military member, veteran or spouse.
Feel free to share any other ideas in the comments!