Looking at all the posts about Remembrance Day on my Facebook homepage has inspired me to make a small dedication of my own to the people who put their personal lives on the backburner to contribute to the greater good. Who we also need to remember are the victims of war, the people who faced and fought oppression within these conditions and sometimes without appropriate defense.
I’ve known about the Holocaust since I was a small child; my mom always told me stories about my grandfather—her father—who went over to Europe as a sniper in the second world war, the emphasis always on the fact that he went over because he was fighting against something that was wrong, he was standing up for those who couldn’t effectively defend themselves. Most of my knowledge of him stems from what other people in my family have told me, and I don’t know that there will ever be a more remarkable and amazing person in my family to survive him. What’s even more incredible was his apparent humbleness and hesitation to tell certain stories but I can understand that things he went through were probably difficult to relive and talk about…part of me hates that he’s not here to tell his own stories but another part of me is glad that he is getting the kind of recognition that he deserves, that his stories are being given the proper attention. Whether he would admit it when he was alive or not he has touched many people’s lives in an amazing way.
Given that I consider today to be his day, the day I take to honor him, I want to quickly relate the stories of his that resonate most with me. Perhaps most recently relevant is the one my grandma always relates, how he proposed to her before he went over to Europe and how she waited for him for a few years (and I thought the five months I was apart from my boyfriend this summer was bad!) He had to leave all his closest relationships behind to fight for the benefit of everyone and you would think this act of courage alone would suffice, but he also displayed amazing heroics and received medals of bravery, one in particular for staying with an injured man in a pumpkin patch overnight protecting him then taking him to a doctor’s when they were no longer in imminent danger…every time I get an A on a paper I think I’m proud of myself but that could never compare to the pride I feel for my grandfather every Remembrance Day.
But besides the medals I think the most important moment of all the stories of him as a soldier was one in which he proved his compassion, that he reflected very deeply on his experiences at war and didn’t fight in vain, didn’t kill just to kill. This story I’m talking about is one that my mom and grandma have related to me many times: on Christmas eve one year he saw a German soldier within shooting range, he was close enough that my grandpa could have picked him off but once he saw he was looking at a picture of his family my grandpa got his attention and told him to run. This moment is especially profound because Remembrance Day isn’t just about remembering the war heroes, it is also remembering the devastation that war causes and keeping in mind that people’s lives are at stake. My grandpa was not ruthless and even in the heat of a moment and being trained to defend himself, told to kill if necessary he was cognizant and mindful of human lives, he never lost his sense of right and wrong and that is the most amazing part of all.
My grandpa’s story is just one in many instances of bravery but it is a personal story unique to my family, a legacy he has been generous enough to leave behind for the rest of us and although today is a day that I take purposefully to really acknowledge and think about him, he is never lost from my mind, he is never forgotten, along with the many others like him.