It was the above picture of a newspaper page that fueled the idea of this blog post. I had used this image in an earlier post. When I studied this newspaper page, I was reminded of the many people I knew while growing up that served in the armed forces during World War 1 and World War 2. Many of the names in the list above were people who I knew or knew the family. Many of the people who served during these wars never talked about their experience and the first time I knew about it was when I read their obituary when they died.
I wanted to write about my family’s history in these wars but was not sure what to say. Then I came across a poem by Paul Wesselhoft that put into words my feelings much better than I could express. Mr. Wesselhoft has permitted me to use his beautiful poem for this blog post
Walked Among Giants
By Paul Wesselhoft
I walked among giants,
Men of renown,
Great ones they were,
Some, were women.
These men of might
Walked the earth
And communed with us.
They were brave when bravery
Had to make a difference.
Daily, they die.
Soon, they will be extinct.
They left their mark, though,
For all time.
During the great disruption,
They performed gargantuan feats.
These titans saved the planet
And preserved a way of existence.
Daily, they die.
Some were killed in the fight,
Others captured, tortured.
The remains of some were never found.
Some were maimed in body and mind.
Most lived to see a new day, a new world.
Now, these colossal men
Serve as pallbearers for their own.
They barely carry the load.
Some hobble with canes.
Some are bent over with years.
Some can only watch
With dim eyes from wheelchairs.
Their eyes see three colors blur as one
And slowly fall into the ground.
Daily, they die.
They are almost a lost breed.
Some are written about,
Most are not.
Some, were my uncles,
Others, my countrymen.
One was my father.
I can tell my children
And their children,
That for a time on earth
I was privileged,
To walk among the giants.
The pictures above are from my side and my wife’s side of the family. These were some of the giants we were privileged to call dad and uncle. While I am not going to tell their complete story, I would like to share with you a quick review of some of the deeds these men did and perhaps a glimpse of the price they paid. One man was buried alive in his trench left to dig himself out with his hands and a mess spoon. His mind was so affected he would spend large amounts of time in VA Hospitals and live for the rest of his life with his sister and her husband who was also a war veteran. One man above was to come home as a young man having his hair turn snow white and was to remain that way for the rest of his life. One of the soldiers pictured above would spend the war stateside in coastal defense. He would spend the war trying to get sent overseas so he could get into the fight. I have letters from his younger brother who was in Italy telling him, no begging him to stop trying and stay in the States. The younger brother depending on what was going on either carried a typewriter or a B.A.R. weapon. One man landed with the third wave on Omaha Beach on D-day. Some fought in the hedgerows, the Battle of the Bulge, saw the air raids in London, one helped to liberate two concentration camps. Two men were to receive purple hearts for wounds. One of these men was wounded so severely that he was told he would never walk or have children. He was to have several children, and he walked until the day he died, but he did live with pain the rest of his life. Two of these men were to suffer the death of a brother in battle. I heard their wives tell of how for years after they came home that a sudden loud noise would spook them. I remember one aunt telling how after a very loud thunderstorm one night she woke up to find her husband under the bed. But for the most part, they returned home found jobs and raised families. One was to find a home working maintenance at a large college. He came to be so well respected that when the college president died the family requested that he be one of the pallbearers.
Perhaps someday I will be able to tell their complete stories. These were private men, and their war experiences were never open for discussion. Much research was done to find out what I do know. Rare was the day when any of them would speak about the war at all. When they did talk, it was usually a funny story and never about the horrors that they shared. The war was something to be left behind no matter how fast they had to run. For now, this is my small salute to them this Veterans Day.
Most of them never told what they went through.
So very true not even with each other.
Charles, we’ve been watching the Vietnam documentaries on PBS, and the brutality and senselessness of that war is almost too much to fathom. Earlier wars were fought for different reasons, I know, but I still recall a heartbreaking line from “Unbroken,” the WW II story of Louis Zamperini … “Life was cheap in war.” The sacrifices these men and women made, along with their families, are beyond the understanding of so many today. Yet it goes on. I was in DC two weeks ago for the Marine Corps Marathon, and saw many wounded warriors taking part — including one in dress blues being pushed in a racing wheelchair. There’s a one-mile section of the course called “the Blue Mile” with large photos lining both sides of the road — photos of KIA Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. In many photos, they are smiling, with spouses and children. It goes on and on and on, for what feels far longer than a mile. It breaks your heart.
I do not think I could make it through the “Blue Mile”. I was unable to watch the PBS Vietnam show. I just did not have the stomach for it. I now have some understanding why my father did not care for WW2 movies. As far as war goes it seems no matter how many times we are taught the lesson we just fail to learn.
This is an excellent account of the horrors of war and the sacrifices the ‘giants’ have heroically made for their country. A timely reminder ‘less we forget’ for Veterans’ Day or Remembrance Day as we call it here in Canada! Thank you!
Growing up in Northern New York many people also referred to Veterans Day as Remembrance Day. I recall many people wearing a little red poppy.
The little red poppy is the universal symbol for the remembrance of the soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice. Lately also it has become a reminder for us all to work for peace in our troubled world. Thanks for the additional info!
Thank you to the wonderful people of the United States who sacrificed their lives to help rid Europe and Asia of tyranny in two world wars and respect to all those who served.
Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts.
A beautifully expressed and very moving post.
Charlie, what a beautiful and poignant post! The poem is so evocative but your photos and bits of stories are just as moving. Our next door neighbor, just recently passed away, went to WWII as a 16 year old. He was able to go on an Honor Flight a few years ago and it was amazing to see the pride he felt and the respect he was given.
My daughter in law went on a Honor Flight as an escort to one of the veterans. It seems the very least we can do for these people who gave us so much. We owe them everything we see around us.
This is such a powerfully moving post, Charles. It is a testament not only to the strength and courage and humanity of your relatives but also to the horror of war. It should be read by everyone.
Thank you Amy. It is a post I have tried to write before but could not even come close. It was the poem that helped me to write this, that and a strong case of “less is more” allowed me to complete the post. The truth is I could never do these men justice in telling what they did and endured. By that I mean not just my relatives but all who put their life on the line.
Yes. They were all heroes.
This brought tears to my eyes. A very moving, loving tribute to those who sacrificed so much to bring freedom to the oppressed. I pray my heart will always be moved to tears when I am privileged to have a glimpse into the lives of those Giants.
Thank you so much for your comment. We owe those people so much that we could never repay them.
Loved the stories and the pictures…the poem was a nice touch.
Thank you, I also liked the poem.
I just finished listening to a series of podcasts, 16 hours in all I think, that are free through Audible. They are narrated by Martin Sheen and called “The Home Front.” They really broadened my knowledge of those years and the effects on the children of the war(I was born in 1947 along with millions of others.) If you can find it, I highly recommend it.
I will look them up and give a listen. Thank you for letting me know about the podcasts.
Several older relatives of mine were in WWII. Some were in the Pacific portion of the war, and some were in the European portion of the war. One of them died at 20 years old. I never heard any of the living veterans ever talk about the war and what they experienced. Not ever, even has they got older – not to their wives, kids, and other relatives. Like all veterans, these were brave men and women, and heroes. Thank you – this was a terrific and moving post – Spyro
You are so right in that they never talked about the war or what they did. That is why it is so hard to learn what happen to them. All they wanted to do was to put the war behind them, and who could blame them for that?
Wonderful stories. . . This is a perfect post for Veteran’s Day.
Thank you I am glad you liked it.
Very touching! The poem is beautiful. Our dad’s as well as uncles were in WW II & we have a few stories but very little. Definitely our heritage. We shared in a group last Sunday about each of our families & what we knew about their role. It was a special sharing.
What a great thing to do. Those men and women of that generation did so much for us, that most of us will never understand the effort and the cost they had to make.