A way with words… (part 1)

I was reading an article yesterday about New Zealand’s ANZAC Day, and it struck me that I have my own fair share of special remembrances. I come from a long line of verbal people. If you’ve been reading this blog, that really shouldn’t surprise you.

Some of my earliest memories are of my father and grandfather telling detailed stories of their past. It might be a simple tale from their childhood, or something more recent, such as the latest elk hunt. One and all, these tales would at some point have you holding your sides and have tears streaming down your cheeks.

My grandfather moved to my hometown when he was a young boy and grew up with his family there. He married my grandmother and made a home in which they raised my father (the oldest), my uncle and my aunt. My father married my mother and they bought a small house a block from my grandparents. That house is where my brothers and I were raised and where my parents still live.

It was a wonderful experience growing up in a small town in Wyoming, a block from grandparents that were honest, hardworking people. They might not have had a lot to give, but time and love were never in short supply.

My father was born in 1942. At the time of his birth my grandfather was all ready over seas having been drafted to serve in World War II. Even this simple event had a story behind it.

“When my draft card arrived in the mail, I went down to the place where they were inducting the men, and since it was fairly early on, they asked me which branch of the military I would like to go into.”

At this point, I can still see my grandfather, look down, give a little sardonic laugh and shake his head.

“Well, having grown up in Wyoming, I didn’t know much about the ocean or boats. Planes were pretty new at the time and I had never been anywhere near one, let alone up in one. But, I had grown up with a rifle on my shoulder walking all over these plains, so I figured the army couldn’t be that bad.”

Depending on the mood at the time, grandpa would either look down, and say the next line under his breath, or elbow you in the ribs and chuckle it out. Either way, it was always the same statement.

“Dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life. You see, guys in boats have beds and food wherever they go, and a guy in a plane, or working on a plane, they even have at least temporary unmoving homes, but a guy in the army is going to sleep in whatever slop he’s in when they stop, eat whatever he has brought with him and pray to go through it again tomorrow.”

My grandpa is the kind of grandfather any boy would have been proud to have. I’m not saying he was perfect. Who is? But he worked hard and he instilled in my father a work ethic that I am proud to have inherited at least in part. I’ve never known two more simple, kind hearted people then my grandparents.

My grandfather served as part of the 506th. If that rings any bells, it is probably because it is the unit that the famed Band of Brothers miniseries was based off of. Grandpa missed all of the major engagements of the war, but still saw plenty of ground fighting in Europe. He came back from the war on furlough and met my father for the first time. At the time my father was two.

I can honestly say that the stories I’ve heard from my grandfather concerning the war could be numbered on one hand. It wasn’t something you could often get him to talk about. He, to this day (yes, thank God he is still with us), will not watch a war movie or mention that he was even in the military to those outside the family.

One of the few stories he tells always reminds me of the scene in Private Ryan where Vin Diesel tries to rescue the little French girl and is killed. It seems like my grandfather’s unit had been ordered to take some German occupied town. Many of the buildings had portions of the walls missing, and as the men knew that the town was still being occupied by Nazi snipers, they were playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse flitting from building to building.

Grandpa tells it like this, “Well you see, it was coming on dusk and the light was starting to fail, which was good for us, but it also made the shadows strange and made it a bit hard to see. We would run into one building, the four of us, and then after we decided where we were headed next, would go zig zagging across open ground until we could dive into cover in the next building. We had been dodging sniper fire for the last half hour and the smack of the bullets always seemed to be closer when it was your turn to take the lead. Well, we’d seen this building across the way and I had picked my route. I was the lead this time and I knew that the sniper was just waiting for one of us to show his head. I strapped on my helmet, took a deep breath, and took off at a dead run, moving left and right and keeping my head down. There were a couple of shots that hit the ground near me. You never even hear the crack of the rifle until well after the bullet hits. If the bullet passes you by you can hear the whine as it passes. Anyway, as I’m running across this deserted street heading for the building down the way, all I’m doing is concentrating on not tripping over my own feet. As I get closer to the building, I’m peering from under the edge of my helmet and I see the hole that had been blasted in the side of that building and I know I’m almost there. A bullet smacked the ground beside me and I dove for that hole. All of a sudden it felt like a cannon had gone off in my head. My vision darkened and I remember wondering if I’d been hit. The next thing I knew, the rest of the squad was picking me up out of the mud of the road and pulling me into an alley. I asked the guys what had happened. As it turns out, the hole in the wall that I had dove head first into, wasn’t really a hole. It was just a dark shadow on the brick wall. With my head down and my helmet on, I hadn’t been able to tell the difference and I dove head first into a brick wall!”

Well, hearing this from the man with his animated gestures and that unsuppressed twinkle in his eye had me laughing so hard I was in tears by this point.

He just shook his head and finished with, “The funny thing is, I’d probably be dead except I’m pretty sure that kraut sniper probably fell off his perch and wet himself when he saw that stupid yank plant himself into a brick wall.”

I wish I could share with you all the many stories about and by my grandfather. I hope I never forget them.

Unfortunately, grandpa has now been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and every time I get home to see him, which is regrettably only about once a year, I find a little more has slipped away. That twinkle still shows through occasionally, and he still looks forward to my visits, but he rarely remembers my wife or boys names and he knows how much he has forgotten and you can tell how angry this makes him.

Today, I am remembering my grandfather and the many, many times I hung on every word falling from his lips. He truly does have a way with words, and I pray that I will, somehow, always be able to hear them.

~ by odin1eye on 22 April, 2009.

5 Responses to “A way with words… (part 1)”

  1. Beautiful.

    Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories…

    • Wow, what a beautiful sentiment… Thank you!

      • Beautiful yes, but certainly not an original. (Emily shared that the quote came from the movie An Affair to Remember. I love that movie, but still don’t recall the quote. – Odin)

  2. That is a hilarious story, reminds me of my grandpa. If we don’t remember all the stories, terrible, beautiful, funny and all, then we are truly letting them go. Write them down, pass them on. (heck write them into a novel =)

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. I am going to endeavor to write down as many of my grandfather’s and dad’s stories as possible beginning now, and see where it goes. Thanks for the comment!

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