Thursday, November 11, 2010
As I worked on my first manuscript, I studied World War II to a depth I never had before. As I've read the personal stories of the people who fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, I've been struck by the very human responses to the sacrifices asked for and given.
One of the most poignant stories I've heard was actually told to me many years ago when I worked for AARP. At that time, I was working with the volunteers in Minnesota and I became close with the lead volunteer and her husband Woody. Woody was a World War II veteran.
One night over dinner I asked Woody about his service. I don't remember anymore what prompted me to ask, but he started talking. He talked about being on the ground in Europe for a very short time before being captured by the Germans, he told us about his time in the prisoner of war camp, the interactions with his Nazi captors, the relationships that formed among the prisoners. He was eighteen years old.
Finally, Woody excused himself and left the table. His wife, the woman he'd shared the last fifty plus years with, turned to me and said,"I've never heard those stories. He never talked about it." Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears.
I think it's important that veterans tell their stories. When they do, they bring the reality home to us. Most of us have no idea what it's like to serve. Most of us have no clue what it's like to be in the middle of war.
I'm grateful for the information I'm able to research, the personal stories that put a face on what now amounts to national legend. When we study history in school, we receive the facts - the dates, the timelines, the historians' perspectives. We learn the collective opinions on what happened, why it happened and how it happened.
The personal stories tell us how war effected people. They seem less filtered. They're less of a compilation or aggregation of experiences and more anecdotal, better able to illustrate those moments of daily life, the events large and small, that woven together tell the real story because while nations wage war, it's people who fight it.
As our nation wages two wars right now, most of us are unaffected, going through our lives without thinking about the sacrifices being made on our behalf in those faraway places and here at home by both the troops and their families.
Today it's easy to remember. Let's try to remember every other day, too. http://iava.org/