My honoring of Veteran’s Day is complicated. I had two grandfathers who fought with distinction as Jewish soldiers during WWI— for Germany. My maternal grandfather’s earning of an iron cross first class for his military service, and his status as an appellate attorney, weren’t enough to protect him twenty years later from persecution by the Nazis. He and most of his family members escaped Germany to Belgium, Palestine and the U.S. (This extended family story served as the basis of my first novel, Even in Darkness.)Not all my family members were so lucky. Many died in labor and concentration camps.
My father, uncle and father-in-law arrived without their parents in the U.S. as teen agers. My uncle went on to serve in the U.S. Army in WWII as a spy, and interpreter at the Nuremberg trials (see story.) My father-in-law, a refugee from Nazi Vienna, also joined the U.S. Army and served for three years during and after WWII.
I became an anti-war, peace-loving child of the 1960s and eventually the mother of three boys. My oldest son enlisted in the Army just months before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. He served in the Old Guard, and eventually became a Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. He recovered bodies at Dover, Delaware. He participated in honor guards, parades, at funerals at Arlington (including President Reagan’s). He learned to understand what the “last true measure” of service meant. He lost a fellow tomb guard to action in Afghanistan.
A second son joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 2009 and served actively for nine years, as a ship-board engineer, boarding officer, and on search and rescue teams all around the Great Lakes, on the Florida coast and in New York Harbor. He helped keep shipping channels ice free. He responded to boating accidents. He did drug interdiction. He rescued people. He recovered drowning victims.
I have learned that these men in my family all shared a passion to serve their country. I have learned from people who formed my character, and whose character I formed, all of whom I love, not to paint “the military” with one broad brush, and especially not to make assumptions about why people choose (or agree) to serve. I still have conflict about military conflict, but I no longer rush to judgment.
Today, I thank them and their colleagues for their service, and fervently hope that this country, in which my parents and grandparents sought refuge many years ago, and for which my family members volunteered to protect and defend, continues to deserve the legacy of their service and sacrifice.