My dad was a World War II veteran. He served in a medical evac unit in France and Germany during the last year of the war. He often talked about how hard it was shipping out to Europe, shortly after my brother had been born in 1944. I’m reminded of him this weekend as we remember all the men and women who served in our armed forces, and particularly those who gave their lives for our country. This weekend, flags will be placed at the graves of veterans in many cemeteries.
Many of the men from Youngstown who served in World War II and survived came back and started families and went to work, or back to work in the mills. Most never said much about the horrors of the war–the mind doesn’t want to go back there. Certainly, some experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before there was a name for it. Some took advantage of the G.I. Bill and went to college, the first in families that may have been peasant farmers in Eastern Europe a generation or two before. Those were boom years in Youngstown–growing families, growing schools, new houses, and the valley aglow. I was born in the midst of all that nine years after the war ended.
By then, the Korean War had added to the ranks of veterans. I never heard much about this war. For many of us, the Vietnam War was what was etched in our memories. As a paper boy, I noticed the blue star banners in the windows of some homes denoting a family with someone in the service. Such banners were replaced with gold star banners for those who had died. No one wanted one of these, and we became more uncertain about the cause represented by the blue ones as the war wore on. Unfortunately, we did not do a good job welcoming home those who answered the call to serve. They should never have been made to bear the blame for what our politicians had gotten us into. It seems, at least we have learned since then as these veterans have spoken out and the beautiful Vietnam war memorial was erected in Washington, D.C.
Many of those vets also came home and went to work at places like Lordstown, like my friend Bob. Most of them didn’t say much about what they experienced, until they discovered that this was part of the process of healing from the nightmares that persisted. Since then we’ve sent others to the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots.
That’s what’s unsettling about war and about what those who have fought have had to experience. Even those who did not make the “ultimate sacrifice” bear the marks of what they have seen, and had to do. I’m grateful for so many who did this, like my dad, and then made Youngstown what it was during my growing up years. I’m grateful for all those like him, ordinary guys, who simply have done what has to be done. And that sobers me as well and makes me ask more and more questions the older I get of our politicians, and why this war, this fight is necessary. Because it will be men and women like my dad, like my friend Bob, who will bear the burden.
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