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Memorial Day is more than a holiday weekend

Because of the family restaurant, Memorial Day for us often wasn’t about honoring our military. It was the first big weekend of the year and the unofficial start of the summer season. It meant getting up early and working all day.

I’ve often thought that my family didn’t have a great military tradition. For the most part that is true.

My grandfather on my dad’s side was a minister in the Church of the Brethren and was a staunch pacifist his entire life. My dad was too until he went to Greece in the mid-1950s and he saw things that made him realize that sometimes you have to fight stop evil.

My dad’s sister, my Aunt Lois, married Uncle John just as World War II as starting. He enlisted and he used laugh about the look on my grandfather’s face when he showed up in uniform to marry Lois. He was a quartermaster and got overrun during the Battle of the Bulge. He never talked much about it, but Aunt Lois told me he started having nightmares again when the Persian Gulf War started.

My father-in-law also was in the Army during World War II, though he was never shipped overseas. But he was always proud of his service.

My mother was born and raised in Greece. (She met my father after she came to the U.S. to go to college.) She had an older brother was an adult when World War II started. He joined the Greek resistance and was eventually captured by the Germans. His clothes were sent back but his body never was. And my grandmother, my "yia-yia," lived her rest of her life believing he was alive in Albania.

My grandfather, ("papou"), was arrested by the Germans during the war. They occupied Greece and were looking for my Uncle Dennis. They tortured papou by pulling his teeth. But while he was in jail, my mother and the rest of the family would visit. Because my mother was just 6 or 7 years old at the time, the German guards wouldn’t search her.

So under my mom’s long dress, yia-yia would hide a bottle of wine for her to smuggle in for her dad. That story always makes me smile because it tells me how my mom’s feistiness and bravery started at such a young age.

I have a close college friend who was an Army lieutenant commanding a Multi-Launch Rocket System battery during the Persian Gulf War. We spent a long boozy night when he returned. It was years before his wife forgave us for drinking the bottle of champagne she was saving for a celebratory dinner she was planning. But all the beer was gone, Vic!.

I tell these stories as we head into Memorial Day Weekend as a reminder that even if we ourselves didn’t serve in the military there are many people who have touched our lives and who made great sacrifices to protect our freedoms and our rights.

Be safe as we honor and celebrate them this weekend.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 24, 2019 at 8:42 AM


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