happy memorial day! today is one of my favorite holidays. i love watching the news and seeing parades and celebrations. i cry everytime the service men and women are shown greeting friends and families or they play their recorded messages from overseas. i can’t get through today without thinking about my mom’s dad, who was a fighter pilot in world war ii.
my grandfather, paul waalkes, was born 1922. he was born and raised in michigan. the 20s had to have been one of the most thrilling times- the jazz age, women’s suffrage, prohibition babe, ruth and baseball, the start of hollywood and the movies, flappers; the hope of success and wealth and new opportunity had to be nearly intoxicating. i can’t imagine the whiplash heading into the 1930s, experiencing the stock market crash and the subsequent great depression was, i imagine, a sobering, definitive moment for most people. my grandfather was 8 when the great depression started. he told stories of eating popcorn for lunch and then drinking water to try to feel full. my mom often saw him eat popcorn out of the same metal bowl he grew up with. he graduated high school at 16 and went straight to the university of michigan where he studied chemistry. he graduated at 20 and shortly after became the sole provider and support for his mother, sister and her two children after his father passed away.
my grandfather enlisted in the air force shortly after pearl harbor. he was a bomber pilot flying b-17’s. he told my mom stories of learning to fly, and even how they would try to fly so low over the water that their propellers would almost touch the water. both him and my grandma talked about all the friends they had that died in service. my grandma moved to long beach during the war- she lived in a small trailer with a girlfriend and they worked putting in electrical systems into boats. i enjoy history and love reading about the 40s. it seemed like the patriotism was euphoric. brave men heading into battle, flags waving on the sides of ships carrying sailors, with the whole country cheering them on. we’ve all seen pictures of parades and romantic welcome homes. but when i take a step back from looking at the whole group and the whole country, and think about the individual choice of my grandfather, and so many others, to go to war, it becomes more serious, and a little more courageous and heartbreaking. when i think of memorial day, i try to remember not just the facts about war, the triumphs and the defeats, but more about the individual heroes who chose to go to war to defend our country. to pause and consider the men and women who have put their lives on the line because of their faith in democracy and their desire to make a change in the world. i think about each of their quiet moments of reflection; the moment when they knew they were going to risk their lives for their country and for the freedom we have been afforded. there cannot be a shortage of courage, dedication and love in a person who is willing to do that. along with that, one of the most memorable things about my grandfather was his sense of duty. he was never heard complaining about having to care for his family or serving his country by going to war. there are not many better examples of selfless living than that.
my grandfather survived the war, married my grandmother and raised 5 kids in southern california and michigan. he had a beautiful singing voice and loved to sing in the choir at church. he died 2 months before my parents were married, my dad only met him once. whenever memories are shared of him, it is always mentioned how he loved and adored little girls and how he would have been in heaven with so many granddaughters. as i’m sure my sisters do, i like to imagine that i would have been his favorite. i’m just sure he would have loved my teasing spirit and seen it as coming straight from him. i know that many of my most adored qualities of my mom’s are in part due to him.
so on this memorial day, i honor not only my grandfather, but all those who individually sacrificed for our country. whose love and courage cannot be looked on just as a whole, but also as individuals who chose duty and honor and sacrifice above themselves. i cannot thank you enough.