Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Since Susan hijacked the blog a week ago, it's now my turn. But for more personal reasons.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for our military. I spent the first half of my career as a contractor for both the Navy and the Army. Even though I never served in the military, I have the utmost respect for those that have served and continue to serve. One of those people was my Grandfather Wysocki.

Anthony W. Wysocki , WWII veteran, passed away just over 2 years ago at the ripe, old age of 95. He was a very proud man who did things his way and was generally successful -- from working in his garden to managing his finances. His parents came over on the boat from Poland, and he grew up in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of NYC. The only boy and youngest of 6, he was proud of going through the school-of-hard-knocks and achieving all he had in life with only an 8th grade education. He survived the Great Depression, was married for over 60 yrs, and had two boys. His marriage to my grandmother and his two sons were the things of which he had the most pride. But he always had a special place in his heart for his service to his country.

He married my grandmother, from an Austrian-German family, in 1939 - just 4 days before the Nazis invaded Poland. (What was THAT wedding reception like?) Four years later, in Oct 1943, he was called to active duty into the Army and had to leave his wife and 18 month old son (my father) to fight in Europe. He served as a medical technician in the 126th Evacuation Hospital (like a M.A.S.H. unit). He assisted the doctors in more of the mundane types of tasks necessary to run a mobile hospital unit -- cleaning, packing, unpacking equipment, disposing of medical waste (e.g., limbs), etc. He was always proud of what he learned from the doctors and would always claim that the medical officers said to him prior to his discharge after the war, "Wysocki, you should go to medical school." To which he replied, "No thanks. I have a family to get back to."

He arrived in France in March 1945, about 9 months after the invasion of Normandy. His unit traveled throughout France, Belgium, and Germany. They were never directly involved in any engagements, but did tend to thousands of soldiers. They ultimately ended their travels in April 1945 in Gera, Germany when the War in Europe ended. In February 1946 he was honorably discharged with the rank of Tech Sergeant.

Grandpa would always have a twinkle in his eye when asked about his military service. If you wanted to hear stories, he was glad to tell you some. My Dad & uncle say that Grandpa would tell some pretty gory/gruesome tales, but he never did to us grandkids. But, given the status of medical science at the time, you can just imagine some of the stuff he did and saw.

The only time I got a comprehensive story out of him was for a report I did in 6th grade: "Interview with a World War II Soldier: My Grandpa Wysocki." I interviewed him using a script of questions from my social studies teacher, used a tape recorder for the interview, and typed up the report on a typewriter. When I was done, I gave him a copy. He treated it like a prized possession. He told his friends and relatives about it. He talked about it all the time with our family, even when I was in my 30s. I think he mentioned it the first time he met Susan.

Last year, after my grandmother passed away and my family went through my grandparents' belongings in their house, I sought out and found a box of memorabilia my grandfather kept about his military service. There were his enlistment papers, discharge papers, uniforms, and the report I wrote in 6th grade. I have it next to me -- I used it to recount his travels above. It's very touching that he kept the report & his papers -- in pristine condition. It is somewhat of a representation of the unique connection I had with my Grandpa. No one in the family got him quite the way I did. I only wish I had spent more time with him.

I try to honor my grandfather and remember on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day those who served our country. I'm lucky to have had my grandfather for as long as I did. Many families have lost those they loved in the service to our country. My thoughts and prayers go out to them and to those who continue to defend this country.

- Rich

1 comment:

V said...

This was lovely, Rich.