My grandfathers both served in the United States military. Aloysius Mussari (top) is a NAVY man and still, at the ripe old age of 99, wears his embroidered baseball hat and points a bony finger your way to tell you to join up. Thomas William McKinley, my maternal grandfather, passed away this March. He served in the ARMY and wouldn't pass up an opportunity to rant about American politics or history. The veteran's association played taps for him.
I was lucky enough to go to an elementary school that took special care concerning the education of its kids, and every holiday was an opportunity for our teachers to instill in our young minds some sort of reverent understanding of what that respective day meant. Memorial Day got kids excited about the end of school, but teachers would encourage us to attend the local parade, where veterans from the Smedley Darlington Butler Corps marched, played taps, and took flags to the veterans memorial cemetery in Broomall, Pennsylvania.The week prior, some teachers would bring in veterans to speak to our class, or give us a homework assignment to seek a veteran in our family and ask them interview questions. In fourth grade I was very interested in American History, and, knowing that both of my grandfathers were involved with a few very important wars, I was excited to interview them for homework.
I told my parents about my homework assignment, and that night we went to the McKinley house for dinner so that I could interview my maternal grandfather. He talked for about 20 minutes after each question, and I could hardly keep up with my early handwriting on large-lined notepaper. Long after dessert had come around, he was still telling me historical anecdotes and personal stories, most so obscure that no one remembers them now. He was so specific with dates and names and rankings. This was clearly his delight; to educate his younger generations about his life.
I was always a good student, and was determined to finish the second half of my assignment, which was getting the same answers from Grandpop Mussari. My parents didn't drive me over to his house that day. I must have pressured them, because they eventually let me call him. I don't remember much from that phone call, but I learned that he didn't like to talk about the war. He never talked about the war.
He slept with his bedroom door open every night for decades, with a red lightbulb on in the hallway to mimic the ambience of submarine quarters; he had naval tattoos up and down his arms; he was eager to tell every young person he met to join up; but he never talked about the war. Like most other things on my dad's side of the family, I had to learn that by asking my older sister or an uncle after the fact instead of getting it straight from the source.
Soon after I grew into a punk music-fueled distaste of all war and most American politics, which included a debate here or there with my Pop Pop McKinley. I was in seventh grade when George W. Bush was elected, and not quite old enough to vote him out the second time around. In 2008, I voted in the election and it restored some faith in my ability to participate in American Democracy.
I may never know the kind of devotion to land and country that my grandfathers knew. But they fought so that I don't have to. And for that, we should all thank a veteran and respectfully remember all who served.