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What is your family history?
I come from a long list of Veterans along with a couple of brother-in-laws who enlisted but I was never really impacted by their service, nor was it really discussed within my family. I do recall when Desert Storm kicked off and listening to the news coverage on the radio in my father's truck after he picked me up from basketball practice. I remember being so concerned about all of the troops there as I heard gunfire and explosions come over the radio. I remember I was so worried that my uncle, who was in the Navy, was going to have to go over to the war and leave his daughter who's mother had died when she was an infant. At the Middle School I attended they organized a special assembly which I volunteered to be the liaison for my classroom to share information and rally awareness for the support of our troops. We made yellow "peace" buttons and handed them out and attached yellow ribbons to anything that was stationary. Being a kid at the time it was about the only thing I could do and it made me feel better. Up until that time, the ripe age of 12, this was my complete knowledge of our Armed Forces, better yet, lack-thereof. Looking back now, this is where my passion for supporting our troops and their families was born.
My father is a Vietnam Veteran and does not talk about his time in the war. I know he lost his best friend who was laying right next to him when a bulldozer bucket was lowered to protect them but left his friend exposed. I remember he told a story of how my uncle, his older brother, was sent to Germany to "play cards" for four years while he was sent to the front lines. I know my dad was glad my uncle was out of harms way, but he did still seem a little put-off and I really can't blame the guy for it. During the first few weeks of Desert Storm I remembering peppering my dad with questions of his experiences and memorabilia and he was very upfront that he did not have any fond memories of the war and his time in the Army. At the time, I didn't know about that dark time in our nation's history where American GI's were being disrespected, spit on and having rotten fruit thrown at them. Finding this out as an adult, it truly makes my heart break and blood boil.
My grandfather was drafted for WWII and spent an entire year bedridden in a military hospital because he got pneumonia and was one of the unlucky servicemen to receive the first doses of penicillin which he was allergic to. Since he wasn't able to fight anymore after he recovered he was sent to a "retraining program" where they taught him how to weld and eventually he helped to build the Alaskan Pipeline. I never knew about my grandfather's history until just a few weeks ago when I was chatting with my mom driving home from my weekly meeting at the Miramar Semper Fidelis Rotary. I knew he was a pipe fitter/welder and he also taught my dad, his son-in-law, this trade. It got my dad out of the family logging business and he would earn a steady wage. Often times they had to leave home for months at a time to find work on jobs throughout the state. They were both union members and hired on at the Los Alamos Nat'l Lab in New Mexico which both eventually retired from.
My mom recalled an evening after a family funeral when she and my grandfather sat in his living room and he told story after story of his young adulthood. He sat and talked for hours and at some point my mother asked why hadn't she heard any of this before? His response was that he never knew anyone was interested in hearing about it! Later on that night she spend hours typing on her laptop, recounting the lost tales of the evening attempting to preserve our family history. Unfortunately, that document has been lost on her laptop and my grandfather is no longer with us. I have asked her to make time to sit down and recount the tales so we can pass on our family stories to our children and the generations to come.
Let me ask you, how many of you have family members who have served our great country? Neighbors? Colleagues? Have you ever asked them to share their experiences with you and the rest of your family? You never know what you might learn sitting around the table at your next family dinner, picnic or block party. These stories, the inspirational and the sad, are the foundation of this great nation. I invite to you to ask the starter questions and show your appreciation for those who have fought for our freedom.