Veteran’s Day was first celebrated in 1919 to commemorate the first anniversary of the armistice of World War I. Fighting ceased on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – November 11, 1918. President Wilson proclaimed Veteran’s Day a national holiday intended to celebrate and honor the American service men and women for their bravery, patriotism and service. You can learn more about this holiday by visiting the US Department of Veterans Affairs online.
The Wilderness Girls all have special veterans in our lives – people we love who have loved and served this country, protecting us from dangers most people can’t imagine. Nobody knows what it is like to serve unless they have taken that oath and lived that life. Today Christina and Rachael are honoring two veterans in their lives by telling their stories.
Christina’s Grandfather: Jack E. Grant
My grandpa Jack E. Grant (1924-2011) was a veteran of World War II; he served as a pilot in the United States Navy. Jack was a handsome, charismatic, outgoing man with lots of stories to tell. Only he rarely said anything about his time in the service – I can only assume his silence was a result of the tragedy he experienced at such a young age. He was a larger than life figure and so much of what we know about his service feels fantastical and after so many years the truth and myth have blurred together.
One of the last conversations we shared is one that I will hold close to my heart for as long as I live. It took place during a chaotic time for our family. My grandfather, faced with losing his home and independence sat with me in the rehabilitation wing of a hospital in his small Montana town. It was one of the first times he’d opened up about that part of his life to me. As we reflected on the many ways technology has changed pilot training I asked him how he learned to fly. His eyes as big as saucers, “they put me in the plane and made me fly”, he replied matter-of-factly. He went on to admit that he could still see the faces of the friends he’d lost at sea; images burned into his brain long ago. One of those friends was lost off of the end of the carrier they were stationed on together and he attended his funeral in the middle of the ocean. Behind his watery eyes I could see the open footlocker that held all of those excruciating memories for so many years close. For my grandpa’s generation (the greatest), service wasn’t a sacrifice; it was simply what you did. You didn’t regale your family and friends with stories from the front lines, you locked those memories away and carried the burden on your own.
Next July will mark three years that he’s been gone. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t give him nearly enough time while he was here with us on Earth. When I was younger I thought him old fashioned and stubborn. I resented the fact that I knew so little about the head of our family, that he expected me to be the one to reach out. But, now I reflect on the result of my reaching out – he opened up, and I have the memory of one conversation that I’ll carry with me always. We’re rapidly losing the men and women of our greatest generation to death, it’s estimated that we lose someone from their generation every two minutes. If we don’t ask, they might not share, leaving those memories gone forever.
Rachael’s Father-in-Law: Bobby Ruelas
My father-in-law Bobby Ruelas served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He was stationed in Thailand and later in Vietnam as a supply clerk for 3rd Air Marines. His primary duties were moving supplies and jet parts and making sure they were available to the Marines where and when they were needed.
He was fortunate in that he was never sent into active combat at the front line out in the bush, but the base at which he served was deep within the jungle and it was bombed often. There were three major targets at the base: the ammo dump where missiles were stored, the revetment where the jets were parked and the supply huts where he worked. When I asked him about that he told me one day a M-105 (missile) came through the tin roof of the Quonset Hut he worked in and landed about 20 feet from him but it didn’t explode right away. All of the men immediately dropped to the floor and crawled toward cover. The bomb squad was called in and the missile was a dud, but that kind of danger was part of their life every day.
Even toward the rear of the fighting there was really never a moment of safety. In the line of duty he was exposed to Agent Orange, which was a chemical defoliant used to clear the jungle of trees and plants so the enemy couldn’t hide under the lush foliage. In the years after it was shown to have terrible health consequences and he is living with those effects today. When the Marines of the Vietnam era came home they were greeted with hostility instead of respect. There were protesters at the airport when Bobby arrived back in the US after his tour and they spat on him and called him murderer and baby killer. And then there were the nightmares. Still, to this day Bobby identifies as a Marine. He says once a person is a Marine there is no going back. His service changed him, in some ways for the better and in other ways for the worse. When I asked him if it was 1970 and he had it to do all over again what he would choose, he didn’t hesitate when he said he would enlist again. Semper Fidelis.
If you have veterans in your life, take a minute today to let them know how important their service is and how much they are appreciated. We would love to hear your stories in the comments below. You can also share photos of your veteran(s) on Instagram and use the tag #ilovemyveteran.