Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Take the time to talk with veterans about their experiences

My dad was a World War II veteran, and I’m ashamed to say that’s about all I know about it.
Of course, I wasn’t your average kid. I was a later-in-life, “Oops! What a surprise …” baby, and my parents were actually more like my grandparents than my parents.

As a teenager, I was already starting to take care of my ailing parents … and like most self-absorbed youngsters, just about the last thing on my mind was thinking about my father’s military service.
My mom passed away when I was in my early 20s and my dad lived only a few years past her. Through the years, I had heard stories about his military service, but never really paid much attention to them.
As I got older, I really regretted not knowing more. I want to know why my dad felt so strongly about the service that he lied about his age so he could join the Air Force and participate in World War II.
I want to know exactly what he did in the service. I’m pretty sure he flew cargo planes stateside during the tail end of the war, but which planes?
Where did he fly? What was his mission? Was it scary? Did he lose any friends to the war? Did he ever regret joining the service? Was his mom scared to death to have her baby boy off during war times? Why was it that hearing Big Band music such as Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller always made him get a far-off look in his eyes?
The questions that run through my brain just go on and on.
For years, my parents stored his leather bomber jacket and flight hat in the closet under the stairs in the basement. I recall my dad fondly polishing his Air Force insignia and putting it away in a keepsake box. However, after my parents passed away and the house was sold, my siblings and I lost track of those mementos. How I wish that had never happened … what we probably considered as “junk” in our young minds were really priceless pieces of our family history puzzle, never to be found again.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Washington, D.C. the year organizers unveiled the World War II Memorial. Each state is represented by a different segment on the memorial.
As I wandered through to find the Ohio portion, I couldn’t help to wonder, “What would my dad think about this if he was here?”
But it was too late.
I didn’t ask the questions when I had the chance. I didn’t take the time to learn about his service first-hand. I didn’t realize how important his contribution to our country was.
They always say that hindsight is 20/20. In hindsight, I wish I would have asked those tough questions. I wish I would have paid closer attention. I wish I would have made an audio or video recording of his answers, or at the very least written them down. I wish I would have kept those keepsakes.
But most importantly, I wish I would have told him how proud I was of him for serving his country.
I wish others who read this won’t make my same mistakes. Take that time – make that time – to sit down with your family members and record their history. Save those keepsakes, make sure they are preserved well and cherished for generations.
You may never get another chance. I promise, you won’t regret it.

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