Tonight PBS showed the seventh and final installment of Ken Burns’ The War . As expected from Ken Burns, it was tremendous. I don’t think I will ever look at World War II the same way again. I had already been thinking alot about World War II since I saw this V-mail from Pa Paw posted on the Street Family Website. I don’t know if it is legible or not, posted on my blog in this fashion, but it made me sob and sob and sob the first time that I read it. I love the simpleness of the letter, considering that Pa-Paw only had a sixth grade education. I love that Pa-Paw, in his youthful innocence, was more concerned about eating his next meal than the fact that he was part of a build-up of American troops preparing to invade Nazi-occupied France. But he knew enough about the War to know that he must reassure his mother. I love this letter in the context of the Pa-Paw I knew, who was shaped profoundly by the War, as were all people who served in World War II. I didn’t know much about Pa-Paw’s service in the War, as like most veterans, he was hesitent to talk about it. But reading this letter made me feel close to him, perhaps in a way that I hadn’t since he passed away in 1991. Pa-Paw was seriously injured in the War months after this letter was sent. After he fought his way across France with Allied troops, he was injured in fighting in Germany when a bomb blew up in front of him and shrapnel lodged into his leg, nearly severing it. He recovered in an Army Hospital in West Virginia, but years later, he still had pieces of that German artillery in his leg and showed his young grandchildren his scars.
By the time my generation came along and came to know our War veteran grandfathers, they had over 30 years to process the war. Men like my Pa-Paw (and also my Grampy who also fought in the Army in Europe and was also present on D-Day) had 30 years to reconcile the nightmares they faced on those fronts with the relative tranquility of life back in the States. There had been violent episodes with their loved ones along the way, perhaps in part caused by the violence they had seen and experienced in Italy, Okinawa, or Libya. There had been sleepless nights and demons wrestled. But I like to think that by the time my generation was birthed, they were finally able to receive the long deserved peace that came after the lingering personal battles were appeased and calmed. After dealing with the individual tragedies and terrors they had witnessed, and in some cases were ordered to perpetrate, people like my grandfathers could finally have the peace of knowing that what they fought for was good and right. They could know that they enabled my generation to be birthed into such prosperity and peace. We took their bravery for granted. We did not know what the origin of their kindness was. They were simply our granfathers who bought us treats and took us on truck rides or boat rides. They could look at our smiling faces, ignorant of the sacrifices they and their comrades had made for us, and finally truly feel like they had conquered the War.
Sidenote: If anyone needs an idea of what to get me for Christmas how about this?