Opinion

Story for Federal Way veterans | Andy Hobbs

As a senior in high school, Grandpa got his first vehicle: A green U.S. Army Jeep. He graduated early and went to boot camp, then to the European battlefields in World War II.

For decades after the war, Grandpa discussed few details, at least with his family. We heard stories here and there, mostly about post-war shenanigans. A favorite story: He would sell American cigarettes to French civilians, and an army buddy would confiscate the cigarettes about a block away, then sell the same smokes all over again.

When I was a kid, he showed me a Nazi flag — a "souvenir" from the war. He fished it out of the attic one day. The flag had thinned with age, but its evil was still ripe.

I once asked about a rifle that hangs above his fireplace to this day:

"Where did you get that rifle, Grandpa?"

"I got it during the war."

"Who gave it to you?"

"A German soldier."

"Why did he give it to you?"

"He didn't need it anymore."

Grandpa is more of the quiet, stoic type. He loves his family and guards his privacy.

But when he talks, people listen. One Christmas Eve in the Midwest, the family gathered around the plastic evergreen tree to watch twinkling bulbs and sip coffee. Winter winds whipped the house that sheltered us from a snow storm.

Out of the blue, Grandpa looked at me and said: "60 years ago tonight, I was riding in a tank across the Ardennes forest." He then described the bitter cold and uncertainty he faced during the Battle of the Bulge, among World War II's bloodiest and decisive battles.

At the time, his story caught me off-guard. Like other World War II veterans, Grandpa is more open about his experiences these days, eager to enrich public knowledge before it's too late. I have since heard about a battle in which almost 90 percent of his platoon was killed. Desperate and outnumbered, Grandpa and the remaining Americans charged the Germans with their bayonets. This earned him a Bronze Star. After years in storage, the medal now hangs on a wall at his home.

At 84, Grandpa is long removed from young adulthood. But he can replay every vivid minute of certain battles like a movie on a screen, he said. Those scenes are tattooed on his mind, for better or worse.

I look at photo albums from his deployment, and I see more than just American soldiers. I see boys who became men overnight. I see students who were posing for their final photo. I see survivors who made it home to start families and careers. I see representatives of a generation that cemented America's moxie, pride and prosperity.

I see the last generation of Americans who understand a real threat to our way of life — and know what it means to truly fight for freedom.

Grandpa, you are my hero. I admire your courage more than you'll ever know. Anytime you want to talk, I am ready to listen and learn.

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