I wrote about soldiers in my first novel, Naberius: Daimon Soldier. Naberius might be a Daimon, but he and his men are soldiers dealing with the aftermath of a long and hard war in the Daimon Realm. Naberius is exiled to Earth because he is suffering from PTSD that developed when the wars ended. The men in his personal guard choose to go with him. Exile, immigration, and military service are part of my own family history.
Memorial Day is a good time for me to stop and consider my own family’s history. Both Grandfathers served in their respective countries (Germany and Russia). My grandfather although Jewish was a big supporter of the Kaiser in WW1 although clearly, his patriotism didn’t count for much later.
My father was an immigrant to the US, and he wasn’t even fully a citizen when he served in the US Army. In fact, he went to college during the war years, and the university ran classes 12 months a year so his entire class could graduate in three years instead of four so the young men could serve their country. He fled had Germany because of his Jewish heritage. They hid the heritage so he could immigrate to the US, and attend elite schools (no Jews allowed).
He married my mother without telling her because that’s how shit rolled in those days. He had to prove that he was Christian to buy their first house in the suburbs. But still, he left a letter for me when he died in which he expressed his hope and pride in a country where he believed his children would thrive without the burdens of ancient hatreds.
A man who knew my father in college told me my father would unofficially attend the meetings of the German Club but could not join because it would look bad. I asked what the meetings involved. The man laughed and told me they would talk in German and drink beer in the Bell Tower on campus. I suddenly realized that my father had been a young man who wanted to speak his mother tongue so badly that even despite having to register at the police station as an enemy alien, he snuck out of the dorms to talk in his language and drink beer on the sly.
In college, my father’s largest lecture hall was covered with the names of the University men who died in World War 1. Walls covered with hundreds of names. And he studied hard to graduate quickly so he could serve his new country.
My father did his basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi. The experience caused him say the word ‘Mississippi’ with a slight shudder for his entire life. He was an Ivy League college boy who majored in Classics, hiding his greek and latin texts inside comic books so the other men wouldn’t give him shit. He was put in charge of a squad of blue-collar Polish Americans who teased him because he was a college boy but ended up respecting him because he was the only one who pronounced all of their very long and tricky names correctly. Plus, he enjoyed the sausages that their families would send in care packages.
His two brothers served in the Army at the same time. Once, they arranged to meet up somewhere halfway between where they were all posted. Just a weekend of hanging out with his brothers. The manager of the hotel called the FBI because three men were speaking German late into the night and were wearing US Military uniforms. It was not a fun weekend as they had to call their commanding officers to have them explain to the FBI that they were real US Military soldiers.
Military intelligence snapped him up, and he spent the rest of his service translating German documents. Or at least that’s what we think he did. He never discussed it in any detail about what he did – never. I would like to believe he was a super spy but he was probably just a translator who was told when he left the OSS that he could never discuss what he did. He was a very rule-abiding man, and so he never did. With anyone.
The people who served in World War 2 knew so many who lost their lives and they were reticent to discuss their life in service. My father’s life was unimaginably complex and hard. His mother was trapped in Norway for the entire war, and he never heard from her for years. His father died of a massive heart attack while they were fleeing Germany. He didn’t think he was special; one just did what one had to do. He thought of the United States as a unique and wonderful country, a place where his children could experience freedoms that he had not truly experienced even while fighting for this country.
So tomorrow at 3 pm EST time on Memorial Day. I will take a couple of minutes to remember all those young men who died for this country, to remember those who survived and built this country into a place where their children could live in a free and democratic society. It is work that never ends.