A couple of years ago, I wrote this little essay about Memorial Day. In honor of those in my family who have served and are serving, friends who have served and others I don’t know, I dedicate this blog post today to them.
Memorial Day 2010
This weekend I was hunkered down under an umbrella watching the rain pelt the water of Lake Chatuge, waiting for the elusive sun to resurface so we could take the boat out again. My boyfriend made the comment that it always seems to rain on Memorial Day. I said to him, “Its a million tears for the millions of lives lost.” “Yes,” he replied, “that’s true.” I suddenly thought of my mother’s father. My brother recently sent a photo via cell phone of his cemetery marker in Houston, Texas. He and my grandmother are buried together at the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery there. Grandma passed away a few months ago and my brother was showing me they had finally added her name to the marker. It was strange but I had never known until I saw the photo that my Grandpa, Theodore Shellow, served in 3 wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
I always remembered Grandpa as the one who took us on vacation, made Christmas fun by stringing a zillion lights on his house, played Santa by jingling bells outside our window Christmas Eve, and always coming to our rescue for one thing or another. Seeing that photo I realized he was something more than just my Grandpa. He was a man who on three occasions gallantly thrust himself in conflict to preserve a way of life, freedom and American nobility. A detail I never knew about until I received that picture.
Grandpa told me once when I was younger that he was a first generation immigrant to America. A middle child of a Polish family who specialized in Trapeze acts (circus performers), they came to this country seeking something better, wanting a place where destinies could be made by their own hand, and lives could be changed by hard work and the American dream. They settled in Connecticut and delved into assimilating themselves into American culture.
Unfortunately soon after they arrived in their adopted new home, Grandpa’s mother died, and his father was forced to give his two younger brothers to an orphanage because he could not take care of them. Because of the depression, Grandpa had to dropout of high school and work with his two older sisters to help support the family as his father slowly sank into alcoholism and soon succumbed to physical death.
I note these misfortunes because many say perhaps what they expected in America never visualized itself, and the family only saw hardship and heartache, much more than if they had just remained in Poland. But hearing these stories in my head, listening to the tone of his voice explaining these events, it was as if a light bulb went off, and at that moment in the rain, the million of tears falling on me, I understood with deep respect why he served this country by enlisting in three wars.
Only in America could someone find an avenue out of dire circumstances, raise themselves like a phoenix out of the ashes to turn their situation around, making a better home for their children and grandchildren. Enlisting was Grandpa’s proof that he had faith in the principles and ideas this country was built on, even when faced with so much adversity. Defending his adopted America was protecting the memory of those before him who sacrificed themselves building a haven from persecution, fighting for the freedom in which to invent a different way of life, rising above bitterness and disappointment to create a unique path in this world.
Our family has retained Grandpa’s belief in our country with both my brothers serving in the Navy and Marines, and now with my son who is graduating this Friday at Sand Hill, Fort Benning to begin his career in the Army. Upholding the ideals our founding fathers created when they drafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights, each one of them was, and is, proud to serve for the American dream. So today, as the rain fell, did my tears for Grandpa and others like him, who had faith enough in our country to make our home truly the land of the free and the brave.
Since this was written, my nephew, Christopher Krahn has successfully graduated boot camp and is now in the Air Force. My daughter Kelsey is planning on doing the same when she graduates high school in May of 2013.