In the past, Memorial Day was just a day off for me. No work, no school; just BBQ and usually water of some kind (when I lived on the coast, there was always a big sandfest for those with wheelers). It's only the stories of my grandma's that have finally made me realize that perhaps we should stop a second and say "thanks."
My grandfather (step-grandfather, grandma's husband #4) was a prisoner of war (POW) during WWII. Originally, grandma had told me he had been captured by the Japanese off the coast of Corregidor, but recently she realized he was actually captured at Cabanatuan. His entire unit was captured and taken aboard a hellship to an unknown camp, where he was tortured and starved for an amazing 42 months. Only his psychiatrists know the worst of the torture he endured, but some of the things he told grandma were water torture, skin cutting, bamboo slivering, whipping, beating, and humiliation. The Japanese worked the prisoners in their coal mines until many of them just dropped and died from exhaustion and starvation. At one point, he saved the life of one of his friends by defying one of their captors, which the rewarded him by beating him nearly to death. He received a Bronze Star for that incident. He also received a Purple Heart for his capture and imprisonment.
When he was rescued, he weighed under 100 pounds and stood 6 feet tall. Like other POWs during WWII, he was nothing more than a walking skeleton with haunted eyes. He received medical care to fix the still-open wounds from his brutal torture, and intense psychological therapy for the emotional wounds. Unfortunately, the emotional damage was too deep....he never completely got over his time in the camp. He had many permanent physical scars, and also a crude, ugly tattoo that his captors gave him to mark his status as a prisoner. I can't remember exactly what it was or where, I just remember that he had it.
He had never been a very stable person before the war....his family told my grandma that many times, they took him away from his mother for fear she would kill him. The emotional damage from his imprisonment compounded the existing instability and he basically lost it. He would get drunk and threaten to kill my grandma, sometimes on a daily basis. He wrecked several cars while drunk, and incurred thousands of dollars in gambling debts.
When he died in 1990, he was cremated and interred at Willamette National Cemetery (a veteran cemetery) with full military honors. The salute by gunfire was both horrifying and emotional for me. I was struggling with my emotions and trying to deal with my own abuse at his hands, and the guns kind of unglued me. I was only 16 at the time, and I had to be taken away during the salute. His daughter gave me a strong Valium from her giant pill collection, and I slept the rest of the funeral and dinner away. To this day, I am still struggling with these issues, but knowing a bit more about him and the horrors he endured have allowed me to forgive him.
This is my grandfather, Carol Chad Moore, only a few short weeks after he returned home from the war. He's still terribly thin, and his eyes look so haunted. You can see the bronze star and purple heart, but I'm not sure what the round medal to the left is. Those medals, while prized and recognized by the entire nation, are little reward for the sacrifice these men make for our lives.
I hope that Chad's story will serve as a reminder that our veterans need to be honored every day, and not just on a special day set aside for them. I certainly thank them, every one, for keeping our nation safe.