Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

Both of my grandfathers fought in WWII. Both are still living. My grandfather, Thomas Halpin, was with the U.S. Navy and stationed in both Puerto Rico and Pearl Harbor following its infamous attack. He doesn’t talk much about that time in his life; however, he still attends his Navy reunions faithfully every year no matter where they are held. In recent years, fewer of his buddies remain alive to attend the reunions, but he still looks forward to getting together with those who remain for a good time. My other grandfather, Elmer Carter, fought in North Africa, Italy, and Germany during the war. He received the bronze star in Italy and fought in the famed Battle of Casino. Today he is 94 years old. He basically lives on a can of Coca Cola for lunch, as well as candy (his favorite is licorice and gumdrops) and pretzels throughout the day. He doesn’t eat vegetables. He is rarely sick and never complains about an ache or pain. He just officially gave up golf last year, but I hear he still sneaks out to the driving range. Although basically in excellent health, the war did take a toll on his hearing. He has two hearing aids and if you know me, you’ll understand, I am one of those few people he does hear. Pop-Pop Carter has amazing stories to tell about his experiences in WWII. Everything from his best friend being taken away in a straight jacket to the beautiful Italian girls he dated in Italy. He’s talked about his driving an open jeep alone through small towns where the enemy could easily have been hiding with clear shot of him to stories of IU’s beloved Ernie Pyle who visited his camp (primarily to drink). He talks about cold, rainy nights sleeping in muddy fox holes as well as seeing his buddies blown apart by a mine. My grandfather’s memories are vivid, almost like it happened yesterday. I guess for him, it has been better to talk about the experiences rather than to try to forget. His military uniform is kept tucked away in a trunk with other mementos of the war.

Not only have I grown up hearing my grandfather’s war experiences, but our family has visited just about every civil war and revolutionary war battlefield, monument, birthplace and historic site from Boston to Georgia. My parents emphasized and made sure we understood about the bravery of those young men leaving home and fighting for their country as well as the tremendous sacrifices they made. For example, Arlington National Cemetery is a sobering place. Not because of an eternal flame and JFK’s grave; it is in seeing thousands of grave markers that cover the hill that opens your eyes to realizing sacrifice and love for country.

Today’s U.S. soldiers deserve the same respect and honor. You might not agree with the current war in Iraq, but let’s not let our political differences, whatever they may be, lessen in any way realizing the bravery and sacrifices shown by the U.S. Military today and tomorrow.

Thank you all for serving our country.


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