Each of us is certain to have a special connection to a veteran. For me, it was with my Grandfather, Lowell Strother Jr., or “Pa Pa,” as we used to call him. Pa Pa served in the Navy from August 1943 until October 1949. He served aboard the USS Oregon City and the USS North Carolina.
Of all my grandparents, I was able to spend the most time with him. The summer after my Freshman year of college, I went home to do construction work with my Uncle, who is a Contractor. Pa Pa had spent many years doing construction work after his years of service, and during that summer we worked side by side, every day. I was looking for a means to save money for school, he was looking for time with his grandson. I would leave the house at 5am, picked him up on the way and drive to the job site together. We spent hours in the car talking, and the job we were working on was so far away (3 hours one way for me) that we would stay overnight in a hotel much of the week. While we worked, he would pass on tricks of the trade, teaching me how to use various tools. After work we would have dinner then shoot pool.
That summer was filled with long days and hard work, but I wouldn't trade those memories for anything.
Though he passed away several years ago now, I can still remember the sound of his voice, his laugh, and the way he would jingle the change in his pocket. I gave the eulogy at his funeral, and I can still hear “Taps” being played to recognize his service. A flag was folded and presented to our family in his honor. That flag now resides in my home.
Though I can remember countless memories of my Grandfather, I don’t recall that we ever spoke about his time in the service. I think he preferred it that way. My grandfather had a hard life at times, including his time in the war, and by the time I came of age I think he was more than happy to leave the past in the past, and to just be Pa Pa. He preferred to make new memories, so we spent time going fishing and playing cards. Though he didn’t talk about his time in the service, I knew that, like the tattoos he received during that time, he always carried it with him.
That is the thing that make veterans so special. They’re not characters in a book or a movie. They are our family members and friends, heroes that walk among us, their lives intertwined with ours.
Though they are not seeking special recognition, we need to give them all of our thanks. It is unlikely that most of us will fully understand just how much they sacrificed when they took up that mantle of service, but we know that today we live in the land of the free because of their bravery.
A heartfelt thank you and Happy Veterans Day to all who have served.