It's on dates like today that I think of my grandpa Nelson. A World War II veteran who served in the Pacific Theater, My father said Grandpa didn't talk about the war until after I was born. Sometimes I'd sit on Grandpa's lap as a little girl when he described what it was like to swim the contents of the trucks from the LST troop transporter to the shore as they hopped from island-to-island. How the intense buzz of mosquitoes drove the soldiers back into the diesel soaked, shark-infested waters. He described how he feared that the "something" he bumped into while swimming to shore might be shark and not the side of beef as he originally thought.
Other times I'd sit next to him. He in his rocking chair with his chipped coffee cup balanced precariously on the wide wooden arm and me on the floor, looking up. Often the percolated brew was forgotten in the midst of the story. When he looked out, he didn't see me. He wasn't sitting in his chair anymore – he was remembering the heat and how uncomfortable he was in the flat-soled combat boots and the constant motion of the sea under him.
He reminisced about the poker game he was playing in the bowels of the transport ship when news came of the Japanese bombers hitting Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He passionately spoke of the ongoing argument between Army and Navy “brass.” One wanted their ship– one of the few remaining American vessels in the Pacific Ocean – to continue on to it's original destination, the Philippines, or to go to Australia.
I truly regret my grandfather Nelson died when I was an eighth-grader. He had only begun to share his experiences during World War II when he became sick. I listened to the stories, but as a child I didn't pay attention like I should have.
Today, I rocked his great-grandson and namesake in that same rocking chair as I struggled to find the right words to explain the significance of Memorial Day in terms a 3-year-old would understand. I fear I've failed.
His other great-grandfather is a World War II veteran, too. He died nearly 50 years ago and unfortunately, I know very little about him. I assume he served in Europe based on the silver Nazi officers' gun that has been passed on to my husband. The 9 mm holds Nazi emblems and is shrouded in mystery. I do not know where it came from or how he acquired it. It is one of the few items that link generations. In this case, there are no stories to share.
Perhaps part of my responsibilities as a parent is to share the stories I know, answer the questions the best I can and help my children realize that Memorial Day isn't just to remember those veterans who have died. There is a while new crop of veterans – people they know, friends of their uncles – who have given similar sacrifice to protect their rights.
Today on Memorial Day I remember the veterans of my country who have given themselves to make sure that on my 30th birthday the biggest hardships that I've faced in my life are insignificant compared to the persecution women across the world have faced and continue to confront.