I've often just thought of the benefits of Memorial Day as being a much appreciated 3 day weekend that gave me the gift of extra time with my family. As a child born in an era after Vietnam and many years before the conflict explosion in the mid east, war was just a part of my history books. My grandfathers both fought in World War II but it was something they never spoke of.
My older sons have all been very interested in history. Jon in particular would often ask my grandfather questions about his experiences. Much of what he went through is still extremely painful to talk about, even after all these years. My grandfather(Pepere) is a man with a sensitive heart: generous, loving, and quick to shed a tear over sad and happy news. When Luke was born we surprised Pepere by giving Luke Pepere's name, Arthur, as a middle name. Jon showed Pepere the picture we texted everyone as soon as Luke was born with Luke Arthur written underneath it.(Pepere is not a "new technology" kind of person and will never get a cell phone...he doesn't even have a credit card!) When Pepere saw the picture and Jon pointed out his name, Pepere started crying. And he cried again when he held Luke the first time...and he proudly tells his Dunkin friends that Luke is named after him.
Pepere is a very sensitive man. I never knew that he could not watch movies, or even news reports, about information from any war, whether past or present. It would cause him much anxiety.
Four years ago, Jon was in 7th grade and doing a report on D-Day. My grandfather heard Jon had chosen this topic and wanted to share his story. One day during Jon's research, Pepere came over and Jon had a list of questions that he asked him. Pepere was on a Navy supply ship that was stationed just off the Normandy beach on D-Day. Pepere shared his many memories of that difficult day with Jon...his own fear and the fear of the men around him. Really it was more terror than fear. Seeing some his friends wounded and killed. You could see in his face that he was right back on that ship watching all the events unfold in his head. He broke down several times. Each time Jon would tell him, "It's ok, Pepere, you don't have to tell me anymore." But Pepere really wanted to share his story with Jon in a way he had never shared it before.
In the last few years after talking to Jon, and with the help of our local Veterans Association, Pepere received medals that he had earned during the War but never received. After all these years, it helped him to feel thanked and validated for his service to our country. Pepere was so proud to receive these medals...and Jon was the first person he showed them to.
He also got to speak to a counselor that helped him to realize that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After WWII, the men coming back were thrown right back into "normal life" and left to deal with all they had seen and felt on their own. I'm sure most men were like my grandfather, who internalized and sealed off all those traumatic memories that bubbled up to the surface whenever something triggered those memories. These men did not have the psychological support to help them work through it all. What a heavy cross to carry all their lives.
Pepere will turn 90 in a few months. He is not the typical 89 year old. He is still very independent...lives alone, takes care of his house and yard, does too much even though we are always offering help. He seems to know everyone in the city he lives in...my older boys joke and tell him he should run for Mayor! Pepere can be seen at Dunkin Donuts every morning and every late afternoon sipping a small coffee and shooting the bologna with whoever is there.
I think that talking through his experiences helped to alleviate some of his anxiety and terror from his difficult memories. I'm glad...and it shows that no matter what age you are, there can always be healing.
Today we will pray in a special way for Pepere and all the men and women that have served and are serving in any of our country's Armed Forces. We owe them much gratitude for the sacrifices they made and continue to make.