Memorial Day is coming up, and while it is technically a day to honor the fallen, I think it’s also an important time to remember those that gave so much to their country and survived. That’s why I am flying to Wisconsin this weekend to spend the day with my 91 year old grandpa who is one of the last living WWII veterans.
I consider myself incredibly lucky because I was one of the first people my grandpa told his WWII stories to. He was often more shy about discussing the often-times traumatic events of the war with the rest of the family. For some reason when I sit down on the couch in his television room decorated with decor from the war (including the original knife he carried throughout the war that was made for him in a small town in Wisconsin), he lights up and stories begin to flow right out of his mouth.
Most of my happiest memories are from the summers spent at his house in Wisconsin where he would tell me stories in between strawberry picking and swimming in the neighbor’s pool. I even wrote a book from his letters when I was 13, and went on to win a VFW award for a speech I wrote based on one of the WWII reunions I went to with him for the Red Raiders.
Not only has my grandpa’s stories about the war inspired me to be an honest woman with integrity who values God and her country, they have also educated me on what it means to live a well-lived life that serves others. Here are five lessons (among thousands) I’ve learned from my favorite veteran:
Faith In God Is #1
We always believed that my grandpa’s steadfast faith must have been born during his time in B-24s during the war. Come to find out, he actually found God when he was seven years old sledding down an iced-over road in the small town he grew up in. His sled flew right in front of a truck that just barely missed him. That’s when he knew there was a God, and dedicated his life to Him.
I can be going through the toughest time, and my grandpa will pause and quote scripture or simply reference He who is watching me from above, in order to set me straight. He never loses sight of God, even when it’s easy to. Which, I guess you wouldn’t really be able to afford to when you are flying over 55 missions in a war.
Everything In Moderation
This is something my grandpa has drilled into me since I was a child. My grandpa believes the best way to truly always appreciate the good in life is to take everything in moderation. Yes, have dessert, just not a huge serving ALL of the time. Yes, enjoy the company of others, but make sure to also take equal time for yourself. He strongly believes that you can enjoy anything and everything life has to offer as long as you set healthy boundaries.
My grandpa is Dutch and he will never, ever let you forget it. He is also full of rich life lessons from his Dutch parents that he makes sure to pass down to all of us. From the time I was a baby he would speak certain words in Dutch to me, to make sure I remembered them and knew what they meant. By holding onto his Dutch heritage, Grandpa has given a gift to all of us to hold onto for the rest of our lives. We know where we came from, which helps us to better know where we are going.
Take Care Of Things
One thing my grandpa took from the military was to meticulously take care of things. I mean, it even goes to the towels in the bathroom being folded a particular way. While it bothered me to no end as a child, as an adult I’ve come to appreciate just how well-maintained absolutely everything he owns is. My grandpa rarely has to go out and buy a replacement for things, because he takes care of them from the get-go. He’s definitely of the generation that values everything, and sees nothing as a ‘throw-away’. It’s refreshing.
Love Is It
My grandpa met my grandma on leave one summer, in a town a few towns over from where his parents lived. She was best friends with his cousin, and was clearly engaged to someone else. When her fiance passed away in the war, my grandpa gave it some time and then asked her out. Their love affair is a legend in our family. My grandpa actually went and pulled my grandma out of the movie theater when she went on a date with another guy, and then my grandma dragged him into a jewelry store in her small hometown and basically told him he ‘better put a ring on it’.
They were married 67 years, up to the day that my grandma passed away from Alzheimer’s. Their commitment to each other was unending and a true example of what real love should look like.
There’s a reason WWII veterans are referred to as the “greatest generation”. The lessons you can learn from them are invaluable and come from a time where integrity and family were held at a higher value.
Thank you to every single veteran out there for everything you’ve done for this country, so we can be free today.
- Marji J. Sherman