On this Remembrance Day many people are taking time to honour all those who have served our country. I am inspired to share a story about my hero, my Grandfather.
In 2009 my Grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimers. We knew his memory was declining for a few years so it wasn’t a complete surprise. I traveled to northern Ontario to support my Grandma when my Grandpa was admitted to the hospital. I went to the hospital 2-3 times every day to spend time with my Grandfather. We played at least 8-10 cribbage games per day. While his memory was fading his cribbage skills were still sharp. In fact, he won most of the games.
I admired my Grandfather and he was such a strong, positive role model in my life. It was difficult to see him so confused and anxious. He would tell me the same stories over and over again and I would listen like it was the first time I heard them. I was grateful to spend time with him and I was able to look past the disease and see my Grandfather’s Spirit. It warmed my heart every time he said my name and I could see in his eyes he remembered who I was.
The week I visited happened to be the week of Remembrance Day and they agreed to let him out of the hospital to march with the other local veterans. I watched with such pride as he marched in full uniform with all his medals pinned proudly to his chest.
I knew my Grandfather fought in World War II but up until 2005 he never really spoke about it. In a visit to the war museum in Ottawa there was a display honouring the 48th Highlanders. We walked arm in arm and he told me many stories about his experiences in the war. Through the tears he shared how he lost many friends and how he saved many more lives.
He was a front line medic fighting in the mountains of Italy and through the mud in Holland. His job was to follow the front line troops into battle and patch and bandage all the wounded soldiers. Most soldiers would last about 6 months as a front line medic because witnessing the horrific nature of the injuries was too much to bear. Yet my Grandfather did it for 2 years! It wasn’t until recently that I realized why he chose to stay in that position.
This is one story he told me that left an imprint in my heart:
“Everyone would always tell you that if you come across an injured German soldier you need to kill him. If you don’t and you turn around to walk away he will shoot you in the back. One day I found a young German soldier injured on the ground looking up at me with fear in his eyes. He realized that I had no choice but to kill him. When I looked deep into his eyes I saw someone’s son, someone’s brother or husband. I saw a young man and he was no different than me. I couldn’t bring myself to shoot him. I knew if I turned around to leave he might shoot me in the back but I just couldn’t shoot him. I turned and walked away and thank God he didn’t shoot.”
That story is etched into my heart and I hear his voice in my mind like a tape replaying. My Grandfather told me he never shot anyone in the years he served. He carried a side arm for protection but his main duty was to the men who were injured.
In the entire time he fought in the war my Grandfather never fired his gun.That is a true miracle! How can you be in the front line of battle for 2 years and never shoot anyone? My Grandfather knew how. He made a choice to remain a front line medic so that he could help the injured and never have to shoot or injure another. Wow! What a sacrifice! He put himself in a position to see the worst of the worst because he didn’t want to hurt anyone else. He is my hero!
I see now that he made a choice for life. He met the soldiers at the edge of their life and gave them HOPE. In midst of chaos he was a voice of courage, strength and light. For 2 years my Grandfather sacrificed his own mental well being to save the lives of others.
After hearing only a glimpse of his traumatic experiences in the war I can understand why he would want to forget. After Alzheimers began to take over his mind he found peace. His night terrors stopped and he became fully present to life as it was unfolding in each and every moment.
In September 2012 my Grandfather passed away at the age of 89 years young. I feel his Spirit is at peace and I keep all my memories deep in my heart. He will forever and always be my greatest hero.