On Veteran’s Day, I think about my grandfather on my father’s side. When I was a child, we would visit my grandparents in Western Ohio every few years. My grandfather would regale me and my sisters of his service in World War II. I remember bits and pieces of his wartime talks: being one of the first in North Africa, fighting Rommel and being only one of five men to return.
When I sat down to write this article, I found myself wishing to be able to provide more information about my grandfather, but I quickly realized that I was fuzzy on some of the details. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away in 2009 as have many of those who knew his story. I am truly fortunate that Charlotte Wangrin interviewed my grandfather in 2007 for the Henry County Ohio Historical Society, making it possible to have access to his war history and contributions to our nation. It is fascinating to learn about his experiences and losses throughout World War II in his own words. This snapshot of my grandfather’s life and legacy would be forever lost without Ms. Wangrin taking the time to collect the information.
While reading this interview, a few sentences stood out to me:
“I very seldom ever said anything, in fact I talked more now than I ever have since I have been home going on 62 years. It was something you just didn’t talk about. There are some things I do talk about.”
I wonder how many veterans in America feel comfortable sharing their experiences of war and service. A veteran’s support system can consist of friends, family, loved ones and other service individuals. My grandfather was one of five to survive out of his unit of 214 men. I cannot imagine the pain, anger and sadness that he kept inside for so many years. He went on to marry, father four children, own a business and participate actively within his community. My grandfather did not appear to suffer from the moderate or severe physical, emotional and psychological injuries that stay with many veterans for life, but even he certainly must have developed coping mechanisms to process all he had seen and done.
According to the Wounded Warrior Project:
“48,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in the recent military conflicts. In addition to the physical wounds, it is estimated as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 320,000 are believed to have experienced a traumatic brain injury while on deployment.”
Many service members are living in Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle with these emotional, physical, and psychological scars. My grandfather had many protective factors, connections, and supports that some service members of our area may not. Veterans who do not have support systems in place can suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Too often this manifests in substance abuse or even suicidal tendencies. A Veteran Suicide Report of 2012 concluded that the number of veterans that die from suicide each day has remained somewhat stable for the past decade at around 18-22 per day, with a majority of veteran suicides among the ages of 50 years and older. I feel that these suicide statistics are unacceptable in our society.
A major benefit of a support system is the ability to empathize with someone’s struggle, often by simply listening. The Veteran’s History Project is a resource that can help with this very issue. According to the Veteran’s History Project, The United States Congress created legislation in 2000 through the Public Law 106-380 for the Library of Congress to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans. The goal of this project is to allow future generations the opportunity to hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. They have prepared a field kit that includes release forms, media standards, logs, data sheets, and information on how to participate in an interview with a veteran. This companion video is a great resource to watch and share with family and friends.
Participating in the Veteran’s History Project can be helpful for our veterans in a variety of ways. Collecting interviews and information helps immortalize a story that will be forever kept in the Library of Congress. Sharing a story can also help a veteran process their history and experiences. Veterans are often required to make sacrifices and losing their stories should not be one of them. The best way we can celebrate Veteran’s Day is by hearing and sharing the stories of our veterans. I hope to one day pay this forward and collect the personal accounts of another veteran in my community.
If you are a veteran in crisis or know a veteran in crisis, there is a Veteran Crisis Line that can be reached at 1(800)273-8255 and press 1. The crisis line can also be texted at 838255.
(Photo by Nicholas Trietsch)