Remembering those who came before us
Because of the historically tragic events of this past year, the celebration of our nation's birth should hold a very special place in our collective American hearts. For those who have been labeled baby boomers and beyond, the events of 9-11 forced us to sip from a bitter cup that our parents and grandparents had tried desperately to protect us from.
But last September their mostly dismissed past suddenly and furiously met our present and shaped our future. We must no longer take for granted our way of life and the privilege of freedom. This year, as we find comfort in singing our glorious national anthem and waving the flag of freedom, let us respectfully remember those who came before us.
My Uncle B.E. is almost 80 years old, but not so long ago he was an 18-year-old Mississippi schoolboy bent on defending his country during an era when there was never a question as to whether it was the right thing to do. These were difficult times for many a young husband who, like my uncle, left behind a new bride.
Occasionally, he will share an amusing story of silly boys trying to act like men. Though he recalls the beauty of the European countryside and of V.E. Day and how champagne literally flowed in the streets of France, he has rarely spoken of another day -- the day he and his fellow soldiers were the first Americans to enter into the very gates of hell on earth, a concentration camp filled with what remained of the dead and the near dead.
Margaret was born and raised in Austria, but before she could reach adulthood the enemy would invade and subsequently occupy her beloved homeland for several years. She was forced to grow up in fear.
Today, more than 60 years later, she vividly recalls the enemy soldiers who were so ignorant to the ways of civilized society that they would become enraged, convinced it was a conspiracy when their supper would disappear down the flushing toilets they mistakenly thought were potato washers. These were the same soldiers who had trouble grasping the concept of winding a watch. Rather than being troubled by this daily routine they would force someone they met on the street to exchange timepieces with them.
Despite her willingness to share these memories, it has been only recently that she has been able to speak of the day the occupying forces came to her family's home and dragged her grandmother into the front yard and shot her to death, simply because she was considered feeble and useless.
Two years ago, Margaret, who is my mother's best friend, visited the United States. When she and my Uncle B.E. met, not much was said about their war-torn memories.
It was enough that the now free and the forever brave could sit in the cool of a shade tree and enjoy a cup of coffee together, a privilege they could never take for granted.