The irreplaceable price they pay for us

Published 12:05 pm Sunday, May 31, 2009

I know I’m a little late on writing a column for Memorial Day, but when it comes to remembering those who pay the ultimate price for our country—those thoughts should not just exist for a single day.

I recently was reading over an old column I wrote about my grandfather’s Naval service during World War II.

My grandfather, Abram III, was one of the lucky ones; he returned at the end of the war and was able to carry on with his life. However, his older brother was not as fortunate.

The following is a column I wrote a couple years ago.

Of the very few memories I have of my grandfather I remember his tattoos. I do not remember what they said or what shape they were, but I do remember there were many of them and they used to line both of his arms.

At the time I was four or five and nothing else mattered about my grandfather.

He was just my “Papa,” as I used to call him, who took me to Frankie’s, the local gas station, for root beer popsicles and brought home bullheads from Sodus Bay in a large white bucket.

It took me years to learn those tattoos were from his time in the Navy and it took me years to realize my grandfather was a war veteran and what exactly being a veteran meant.

He entered the military when he was just a teenager before the United States got involved with World War II. For my grandfather it was a way to break away from his abusive family life and be of service to his country. His older brother Clarence, whom he was close to, had done the same.

At first Papa was stationed at a naval base in Upstate New York before he got orders sending him to Pearl Harbor.

Before Papa left he caught up with Clarence. That day Clarence told my grandfather it would be the last time they would see each other, and it was. He was killed while removing ammunition from a truck in Sicily. To this day Clarence’s remains are buried in an unmarked grave in a foreign country.

After spending time in Hawaii, Papa was shipped out over the equator only days before the attack on Pearl Harbor that left more than 2,400 dead.

Most of his time after that was spent on a naval ship in the Pacific Ocean until after the war ended.

My grandfather never liked to talk about his time in the Navy; whether he saw something that scarred him mentally or emotionally is something my family will never know. Most of his war time stories died along with him.

All that is left is a framed picture of the ship he served on that hangs on my mom’s dining room wall and a few photos from Hawaii with his naval buddies and an assortment of hula girls. My grandmother always made sure those photos were buried in the back of a closet.

But his patriotism for his country lasted throughout his whole life. He loved to see an American flag flying in the breeze and attended every Memorial Day and Veterans Day parade in his hometown.

That sense of patriotism is something that should act as a lesson for all of us.

The people who serve in the military often get caught under the wheels of politics, the media and, at times, the disregard of others.

One of the purest forms of patriotism is being on the front line for your country. Not many of us civilians can say we crossed the ocean or risked our lives for the United States.

Instead we sit calmly in our homes, voicing our opinions about war with very little thought of who is out there fighting for that freedom of speech.

The experiences that many of our military men and women face are ones that live with them forever.

War has and always will bring out the extreme in opinion and the current wars are no different. Feelings can be and have been eschewed, twisted and perceived as anti-troop feelings.

No matter your opinion about the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan or in other countries in past wars—a feeling of support should always remain for our troops.

I’m not sure what my grandfather would say about the current conflicts in the Middle East, but one thing I’m sure he would do is think of those who were out there and the ones that were lost along the way.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.