Although I was a baby boomer, born in the late 1950s, the social climate in my house was that of the 1940s and before.
My mother, who was born in 1928, remembered living through the Depression and World War II. The stories that helped shape my life were of rationing and of a family separated by war.
Every year on Dec. 7, Mom would tell how her father heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio. He put down his paper and paused thoughtfully. “Looks like Paul and Charlie won’t be home for Christmas,” he said.
Around June, I’d hear the story of how Uncle Charlie’s unit was a day late for D-Day, and how we thanked God for that delay, because Uncle Charlie eventually came home.
Uncle Paul came home from Europe, too. When my then two-year-old cousin saw him and noticed he was bald, he said, “[Those bad] Germans shot all of Uncle Paul’s hair off!” (Uncle Paul had lost his hair to scarlet fever as a teen.)
My mother’s family came from the hard-coal regions of Pennsylvania, where villages called “patchtowns” edge the anthracite strip mines. Her town was Jeddo and the next town over was called Japan. Another story Mom loved to tell was of the butcher from Japan who led a parade down the main street on V-J day, wildly waving his meat cleaver.
Although Mom told stories about the war, the men who served said little. Uncle Paul never talked about it and I never heard the uncles discussing their experiences together. I have one vague memory of Uncle Charlie's talking to Mom about the Germans, but I didn’t really understand it.
But I now understand this: Growing up in the post-WWII culture of my family made me deeply appreciate the men of the Greatest Generation and all the soldiers who came after them.
Without them, I would not have grown up in a country that enjoyed peace and prosperity as it did through the last quarter of the 20th century.
Veterans Day is a time to remember the sacrifices of them all — of my uncles, of the men who died on Iwo Jima, Saipan and Guam, and of the many — especially from Guam — who continue to serve.
We owe our veterans a debt of thanks.
Not just today.
But every day.