Annie and I enjoyed our retirement. We took a few cruises and a trip to Japan of all places so I could show her some of the places I had known when I was stationed there. It was uplifting to see what a modern society the country had become.
But as we advanced into our mid-70's we were just as contented to hang around the house and our hometown enjoying our family and friends. George passed away in 1991 at the age of 89 and dear MeMe followed a few years later at 87.
The Iraq war that followed 9/11 generated a new interest in Patriotism and those who served before.
"Thank you for your service" became the new catch phrase. I had experienced a similar phenomenon when Tom Brokow wrote his Greatest Generation book in 1998 profiling members of that generation after attending the 40th anniversary celebration of D-Day. In the book, Brokaw wrote, "It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced" remarking that the men and women of that period fought not for fame and recognition but because it was the right thing to do.
I couldn't agree with him more on that point and it made me think about all the people I had known who had gone off to war, many not coming back, others returning damaged. Ironically, Steven Speilberg's Saving Private Ryan movie came out the same year and that made me thing of the same experiences and philosophies.
Another movie I loved was The Best Years of Their Lives, made in 1946 starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and Harold Russell, making his motion picture debut as the Sailor with no hands (he'd win an Oscar for his performance).
The film is about three servicemen readjusting to civilian life after coming home from World War II and I identified with that the most of all the war movies I saw over the years.
I was among the last to leave for the war (in 1945) and among the last to return a few years later. By then, George and MeMe had readjusted to civilian life but I was a few years behind them and I felt like I had to catch up to those already producing the Baby Boomer generation and adjusting to the post-war lifestyle.
Sometimes I forgot about all that and while I marched in various Memorial Day and Veteran Day parades over the years I tended to leave that part of my life in the past and I didn't talk about it too much.
There were plenty of other guys and gals who performed heroically and for longer periods than I and they were the ones who deserved the accolades - Uncle George was fighting in the war for nearly four years and Aunt MeMe gave up her family and home for a couple of years of honorable service among the countless other thousands of Patriots who served.
In 2013, a book called The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II written by Denise Kiernan was published, chronicling the history of The Manhattan Project and specifically the town of Oak Ridge where Annie had worked for two years. My wife had rarely spoken about her time there and it wasn't until I read the book that I fully appreciated what she had gone through at that secret city.
"We did what we had to do," Annie said simply, although she still didn't talk all that much about her time there other than to reminisce about the friends she had made.
"Geez, Ma, you really were a part of history," our impressed daughter Julie marveled.
I was 78 years old in 2006 when my youngest grandson Jake (Brad's youngest son) graduated from high school. I attended the ceremonies just as I had for all my kids and grandkids over the years.
This was when the focus on the Iraq War and service was at its height and people were finding various ways to thank current and former vets - surprising unsuspecting wives and mothers at National Football games by having their husband or son show up from the stands or locker room, siblings surprising younger siblings at school events - most captured on video and posted on the internet.
I proudly watched Jake and his classmates receive their well-deserved diplomas but when the ceremony was over the Principal announced that there was one more diploma to be awarded - sixty years delayed. And then they called my name! Annie and especially my sister-in-law Ellie talked about me not graduating more than I did through the years, how I enlisted on my 18th birthday nearly two months before graduation. Ellie often told the story of how my (and a few other classmates) diploma was left on an empty seat as we served our country during the war. In truth, I didn't think about the ceremony I missed all that much, mostly because I was ready to go.
But it was a humbling experience to walk up on the stage that night sixty years after the fact and be handed my diploma from my grandson Jake, receiving a standing ovation from the graduating class, faculty and those in the audience in the gym. Sadly, I was the only surviving member of my class who hadn't graduated that year to receive my diploma all those years later.
I thought about the poor souls who never came back to receive such an honor and that was emotional for me.
"That damn war," I told Annie when I returned to my seat with my high school diploma in hand.
My beloved Annie passed away from congestive heart failure in 2015. She was 88 years old. The kids helped me sell the house George and MeMe bought in 1925 and I'm now in an Assisted Living Facility a few miles from my daughter Jessica's house.
I wrote this over the past few months because I thought it was worth capturing in words. When it's all said and done, it was a damn war and as I sit here looking out the window at the nice park across the way I can't help but be thankful that those who have been forgiven should be willing to forgive and that none of us should forget about the great sacrifices of The Greatest Generation.
I must admit I have some doubts given the recent controversies regarding the reemergence of Nazism in the national debate and the political definition of Patriotism as protesting someone taking a knee– people really need to know their history before they start spouting off about such things.
Patriotism is about love of country.
End of story.