Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Own War Heroes

My dad, my Grandpa Plum (Mom's dad), and my Grandpa Alexander (Dad's dad).  Based on the sideburns and hair color (not gray, and it's still there!), I think it's safe to say this picture was taken in the mid 70's.  I love that my Grandpa Alexander's glasses would be considered cool nowadays (Brayden's been wearing a similar pair all weekend).  Grandpa Alexander is actually sporting a a pretty good-looking shirt - and Grandpa Plum looks like a modern-day golfer...though I'm pretty sure he did not play.  And, Dad - well, he was definitely stylin' for the 70's....

Those three got along very well.  Despite Grandpa Plum's lack of smile, I can guarantee he was amused and probably hiding it just for the picture.  Grandpa Alexander probably said something inappropriate and got his son laughing.  It actually hurts my heart to look at this picture as much as it makes me smile.  I wish I could be this age and have them at that age and really get to appreciate who they were - their personalities as individuals.  

I also wished I would have been mature enough to ask them about their service to our country and have gleaned first-hand stories.  Instead, I get to rely on Dad who has such a great memory for their details.  I had a special time talking with him and Mom a week ago as we sorted through pictures and facts for this post.

I'll start with my Grandpa Plum as he's the one I've been longest without.  His real first name was Lael, but everyone called him "Bud".  =)  He went to school at Springfield High School - (the rival school to Thurston where my dad and mom went and where Michele and I went) - and apparently he was the guy everyone loved in high school.  I'm not surprised.

We saw Grandpa Plum all too little during the years - after he and my Grandmother divorced (around the same time Mom and Dad got married), Grandpa Plum was married three more times.  His second wife (after Grandmother) was named Diane, and she was so special.  Perfect for him.  And, she died all too soon of cancer.  It was so sad.  His second wife was not a good choice and they were not married for many years.  And, his final wife, Eleanore is now his widow - she, too, was a perfect match for him and I wish they had had so many more years together than they did.

As for his military service, he served in the Navy in World War II from 1942-1945 in the South Pacific.  He actually lost part of one of his fingers during that time when he released one of the "to shore" boats from the big ship and caught it in the release mechanism.  As he later became a carpenter and shop teacher, it was usually guessed he lost it from a saw.  Nope.

He passed away in 1995.  His birthday was right around Halloween so this time of year always brings thoughts of him - as every year we'd make a trip to Sherwood to celebrate with him - which would soon be followed with visits on Thanksgiving and Christmas.   I remember him so fondly.  I wish I had a picture of him in uniform.  I know it's out there some place, but not in our possession - so I will have to someday add it in when it is rounded up.  Instead, here's a pic of him doing something he LOVED, "calling" for square dancing....  Thatta way Grandpa Plum...

On to Grandpa "Clyde" Alexander.  My dad's dad.  He died on Christmas day of 2001...just four days before Mikayla was born.  I remember my second cousin, Jason, being so worried that I would just pop at the funeral (I knew I wouldn't...Brayden was 11 days late, at that point, being 2 days late was nothing).   The years before his death, he suffered from a series of debilitating strokes.  It robbed him of a lot of his thinking, vitality, and personality, but he was really starting to "return to us" when the final stroke robbed him of life.   My grandma ended up dying exactly 51 weeks later.  We're convinced that was as long as she could wait before meeting up with him again in Heaven.  She was miserable without him- blind, and lonely during the day- but, dreaming of being with him EVERY night.   They had married when she was 15 (she had my dad at 17!) - and had spent over 50 years together.

I also wish I had gotten to know Grandpa Alexander better.  We spent a lot of time together and were spoiled rotten by Grandpa and Grandma who lived near us.  Sadly, as we grew older, Grandma struggled to "let go" and let us grow up.  She suffered from tremendous anxiety and worried incessantly over us.  It caused a growing level of resentment for us - never feeling like we were giving her enough time or attention and feeling smothered.  So much of that was Grandma, though - and Grandpa and his personality kind of got buried beneath it all.  He had a mischievous spirit (evidenced by that smile above), tremendous character and conviction, and a heart full of wisdom of God and His Word.  Again, I wish I could spend time with him at this age...

Grandpa Alexander was a First Sergeant in the Army - serving from 1939-1945 in World War II in France and other parts of Europe.  I don't know a lot about his time in the service, but have one stellar picture of him in uniform.  What a handsome man.  No wonder Grandma was swept off of her feet by him at the age of 15. =)

Finally, my dad.  Paul Alexander was a Specialist Fifth Class in the field of Avionics.  He served in Vietnam.  Dad was drafted - it was a dreadful day he and mom both vividly remember when they got his "summons".  They spent his first year after Basic Training in Georgia where Dad taught avionics - and then he headed to Vietnam.  

He showed me his pictures and it looks like they were in the midst of a desert instead of the tropics of Vietnam.  That would be "Agent Orange" - having killed all of the vegetation in the area.  (A point of interest in that Dad is just now being offered medical benefits because of his exposure to that chemical through Veterans' Affairs).  Dad serviced and repaired helicopters - and yes, he saw things he wishes he never had to see or go through.

I feel like the stories I've gleaned from Dad have been more about how he felt being away from Vietnam than while he was actually there (though we have some interesting ones of what happened amongst men in his own platoon...Dad held his own, let's just put it that way!).  He spoke of his all-too-short "R & R" in Hawaii with Mom, dropping to the carpet in the hotel room every time he heard an alarming sound - and that good-bye to her...I just can't fathom.

When he returned to the U.S. - it was not to a "Hero's Welcome".   While he didn't choose to enlist, he was blamed nonetheless.  He ended up "re-entering" in to the world by staying in a trailer in a small town with just Mom for a month...partly escaping the hostility of a country who didn't approve of the war and partly readjusting to this country and all of its overwhelming nature.  

He did come home with a rather unorthodox "badge of honor" though.  It is a 40mm artillery shell (basically an exploding grenade shot from a helicopter).  It was given to him by his outfit for his exemplary service.  I have no doubt he earned it and SO MUCH MORE...

For so many of us (especially those of us who are teachers or have school-age children), Veterans' Day is just another day off in November.  It's the time to start getting serious about holiday planning, or jump the gun on sales in the stores, or get away for a long weekend.  I'm guilty of all of that.  This year, I thought I'd do my little part in saying how indebted and grateful I am to ALL who have given up for the life, liberty, and freedom we so often take for granted in this country.  THANK YOU.

1 comment:

RETA said...

Thank you for this tribute.