Remembering at Memorial Day
Memorial Day is an important time to remember the sacrifices of veterans in your family like your dad or your mom. But remembering requires a little work. Getting them to share their stories and documenting them in journals for later years is so important to do
By Ray Hanania
Like many people, I always visit the graves of my father and mother to place flowers on Memorial Day.
My dad, George, served during World War II with his brother, Moses. It was a long and grueling service. My dad was in the 5th Army working in the OSS and my uncle served on a battleship in the Pacific.
My dad did some writing when he was in the service and I have some old photos — black and white but really a sepia — taken at the time of him in uniform. But there isn’t much.
I tell my daughter and my son, even at his young age, that they should keep journals to record details of their lives. They may not seem important now, but when they get older, with children and grand children, they will make for great reading and memories.
No one remembers everything. Documenting our life histories is something we all should do.
What little I do know is that my dad and uncle, like many Americans, enlisted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
My dad was working as an accountant downtown and my uncle was a chef at the Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights. Before they left, they had to put their affairs in order.
Their parents and siblings lived in Jerusalem, Palestine, controlled by the British Government. What happened in Europe and the Middle East during the war was important.
I have a few documents that my dad saved, including a letter from OSS chief General William J. Donovan thanking him for his service. Donovan is considered the founder of the CIA.
We had a 45 RPM record that my dad sent from Europe to his brothers in Jerusalem. That was considered high-tech at the time. Although I no longer have it – and don’t have a record player any more either – you could hear my dad’s voice telling his brothers and sisters that he and Uncle Moses were both doing well and staying in touch as best they could.
Dad did receive some basic medals and I have his ribbons. I also have his ID Card, which allowed him to enter the Army’s enlisted men’s clubs as well as a ration card needed to get a meal.
It all puts meaning to Memorial Day, although I never did get a chance to hear about it all from him directly as he passed away when I was 17 years old.
Dad didn’t land at Normandy or have to experience the horrific experience of watching his friends gunned down on the bloodied beach. I doubt that he ever found himself in a position where he had to shoot the enemy dead.
I have even less info on my uncle, Moses, other than some of the basics like dates and locations. He died when I was very young in the 1950s.
That’s why documenting these stories are so important. Ancestry.com – which costs some $300 a year – is not necessary. You can put together a database on your own, and there are many other free-search services.
But you should get it done. You don’t have to write everything all in one night. That would be daunting. Just buy a journal, number each page, and just start writing whatever stories come to your mind. (Save a few pages at the beginning of the journal to create an index later once it fills, because once you start it will fill fast.)
You won’t regret it.
A few days before September 11th, 2001, I remember starting a journal about life in general. And then everything hit the fan. It’s a fascinating read of what happened in the weeks and months afterwards, things that we think we would remember but that are easily forgotten.
Your experiences, and especially your family history, are too important to forget.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. His personal website is RayHanania.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)