Growing up I spent a great deal of time with my grandpa, who lived next door to me on Government St. We would go fishing in Davis Bayou together and set crab traps. We would sit together after school and watch the 1960s Batman or old westerns together. He was a very funny man, full of life, and a sharp wit. He had grown up on the Point in Biloxi and had a dental practice in the Vieux Marche. He knew everyone. He was dedicated to helping the poor and to his faith. He was a good man and my hero growing up.
He also fought in Iwo Jima as a Marine in World War II.
As a boy, filled with wonder at the prospect and adventure of war born through books and movies, I would ask him about it. In contrast to his typically joyful and joking demeanor, my grandfather was very serious when he spoke of his experience in World War 2. He fondly remembered friends from the war, some who came home, others who did not. And he remembered, very clearly, the experience of war. What I learned, early on, was that war is not an adventure. War is Hell. He told me that he truly dedicated himself to God when he was at Iwo Jima, praying to get home alive.
Knowing only a grandfather who was full of jokes and gentle teasing, his solemnity when discussing World War 2 struck me deeply. To know that my grandfather had the bravery to endure the reality of war, to volunteer to enter that arena, to fight for freedom and to risk paying the ultimate price for freedom, a price paid by many of his friends and so many of our brave soldiers, deepened my understanding and respect for him. The life he lived, the family he raised, the joy he exuded every day, the advantages my dad received and that I, in turn, received, had been purchased by him and his brothers in arms at great cost. He was not an inheritor of freedom, rather he had purchased the very freedom that I inherited from him.
Today is Memorial Day, the day we remember that cost and say thanks.
Thanks to those who had to pay the ultimate price to purchase our freedom.
Thanks to those who stood up and risked their lives to serve.
Thanks to those who fought and died for their country, for you and me.
And thanks to the families who lost sons, daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers in service to our country.
There is no greater act of patriotism and bravery than to take on the cross of service in our Military. We are able to freely speak our minds, to peacefully protest, to worship freely, to campaign for change, to study and work and enjoy long weekends like this one, and to run for office because of the sacrifice of our military men and women. Freedom has a cost that our veterans purchased for us and that our active duty military men and women continue to pay every day.
There is not enough we can do to thank them for their service.
The year before my grandfather passed away, we took a Fathers Day trip to the World War II museum in New Orleans. He had not been before and we knew there would not be another chance to experience it with him. They gave him a badge to wear, notifying our fellow museum goers that my grandfather had been a part of the history around them, that he stood up when called and took on the mantle of freedom. He beamed with pride as children tugged on their father's sleeves to point him out, staring in awe at this old man the same way I stared at him when I was a child.
He was, like all of our military men and women, just a person, with a person's hopes and dreams, gifts and talents, flaws and fears...a person who along with thousands of others like him offered himself up for my freedom and had become a part of something so much bigger than himself. He was a hero, just like every man and woman who serves in our military, dedicating themselves to serving our Country.