Once upon a time in Berlin, now simply memories and photographs.
I never want to know what singular moment in the war caused my grandfather, Jack, to come home and demand that no one mention he went overseas at all. Sure, he was never in the war, and those shakes weren’t from shellshock.
I never got to know him. Jack died a year almost to the day I was born. He died on Ascension Day. He’s always been the hero of the family, a warm father and loving husband.
I have a wooden tie box he made with his brass Army Corps. badge as a handle. My family has his medals in another box. We had his gun, too. On a day set aside to remember what that generation did to win everyone else’s freedom, it’s hard to ignore what Jack did despite his wishes to keep it all locked away.
Do we respect his living wishes after death? If he were alive and knew me, would things be different? Would he find pride in what he did?
Jack was a prisoner of war. Luckily, he was the one ally who had the shortest time spent as a POW in WWII, but what does that really mean anyway.
He was a Canloan officer, a Canadian soldier on loan to the British, a Desert Rat, a soldier in the massively talented 7th Armoured Division that kicked ass in the desert campaign. He and the Rats were moved up for D-Day to pave the way for the rest of the troops. Though, “pave the way” means a lot more than how it reads.
Jack hit the beach on D-Day Plus One (the day after) and pushed into Germany over the next few months. On a routine patrol commanding his troops through a forest inside enemy lines, Jack and his crew were ambushed from the trees by the infamous SS.
They killed everyone he was in charge of, and he lay on the forest floor with a gunshot an inch from his heart. If his Brit troops hadn’t told him to throw away all of his Canadian badges and insignia, he would have been executed on the spot.
What happened next only he knows. The German’s fixed him up and sent him to a French hospital-slash-makeshift-prison for a period of time.
My grandmother got an MIA news report and mourned his death.
When the American’s started bombing France, the French Underground warned the American’s which buildings not to bomb. Jack’s was one, and the Americans burst in and saved him.
He spent days on a Red Cross train eating moldy bread and eggs. And he was free.
My other grandfather was in the Atlantic Canadian Navy. Herbert was renamed Jock by his fellow sailors. It was something derived from his successful underground Naval boxing career.
He spent his time hunting U-Boats. He told me about the day when he hit one. They dropped some depth charges on it and watched the plume bubble burst on the surface. An eruption of oxygen and flame. Then, nothing.
They ask us to remember on this day. I’ve seen enough war movies to relate to the patriotic feeling, but do my grandfathers want to remember what they saw? Do they want to remember each moment when they ripped the life from their exact counterpart?
They were brothers together in Hell. I thank them for their heroism, but I remember them for their love as family and men.