War is hell, which is a massive understatement. Soldiers who fight for our freedoms are heroes beyond measure and brave beyond words. They put their lives on the line for strangers. To have a soldier in your family is an honor that many cherish.
The generations before us saw several World Wars that tore Nations apart. And the stories that transpired are tales passed from family member to family member with the utmost pride. Whether they have happy endings or sad our grandfathers and great grandfathers fought with valor and their tales must be heard.
Some people are shameless...
He didn't talk about much with us or my father, so I don't have locations, etc, but we do know that he was in the pacific in WW2. He was an aircraft mechanic with the Navy.
One day, the Japanese attacked, and ignited their ammo dump. My grandfather jumped on a bulldozer and pushed the flaming, igniting mess off a small cliff/rise. He was injured in the process and received the Purple Heart.
When he returned home, he sat his bags down on the ground next to him in San Francisco to get his bearings and someone took nearly everything he had.
Fifty years later, my grandmother received letter informing her that her husband had passed away. She was amazed, especially considering he was watching TV in the armchair right in front of her. Apparently the guy who stole his stuff stole his identity for years and was receiving benefits in his name.
Follow the Money...Giphy
He was a guard during the Nuremberg War Crime Trials after WWII. He stood guard over all of the top Nazis, including Hermann Goering.
My Grandpa said that Goering had been wearing a fancy ring on one of his hands, and that he said that he was going to give it to one of the guards before he died (I don't think he ever did.) But before Goering committed suicide, and the other Nazis were executed, he had all of them sign a dollar bill. He kept that dollar bill inside an old book for years.
Unfortunately, my grandparents divorced back in the early 70s (and it was far from amicable) and my Granny sold a bunch of my Grandpa's stuff in a garage sale... that book was unknowingly included.
Someone somewhere has that dollar bill.
Herb the Hero...
WWII. He shipped out from South Africa to fight Rommel in North Africa. Was captured and transferred to a POW camp run by Italians. He said the conditions and the treatment were absolutely abhorrent. Escaped with his best mate from SA and a French guy. It was winter, they had to trek across the mountains in decimated boots and hardly any warm clothes - zero food. The French chap fell down the mountain. They tried to get him but they were too weak. He didn't make it. They were apparently in sight of Allied lines when they were picked up by a German patrol. Must have been devastating. However he was with the Germans for only a few weeks before he was liberated. Interestingly he said the treatment in the German POW camp was significantly better than the Italian one. He didn't go into too many details about anything but he used to say 'war is hell - make sure you never have to go' whenever the subject came up. He was one of the happiest, kindest and most well adjusted men I have ever known. Miss you Herb.
All you need is a spot of tea.Giphy
My nonno joined the Italian army at the age of 18. It was the first time he had experienced 3 meals a day. He ended up getting shot twice and put in PoW camp in Algeria. He was then liberated by the British, who gave him tea for the first time in his life. He lived to 94 and always drank tea.
Everybody has their something...
My grandpa (the one I knew, anyway) was born in '39 in a small town on the coast of Norway, the 5th of 10 kids. Norway was occupied by the Nazis in 1940, but not much of that was noticed way out on the coast.
But some time in 1943, the Nazis came to town looking for resistance fighters. They went house to house, and eventually came to my grandpa's. He clearly remembered a small squad of 6-10 guys coming in and going through the whole house while his family huddled in the living room.
During the course of the search, my grandpa's infant brother began screaming. My great-grandmother tried in vain to calm the child. She was convinced that the Nazis would just kill them for the inconvenience of a screaming child.
A Nazi soldier came into the living room and walked straight to the crib. He looked down at my great-uncle, and began crying. Everyone was shocked. He reached into his pack and pulled out a wrinkled photo of another infant who looked very similar to my great-uncle. The commanding officer explained that this soldier had a son at home he had never seen, but his wife had sent this photo to him.
The soldier then sat down with all the kids and shared his chocolate ration with them. It was the first time my grandpa ever tasted chocolate (and probably the last for a long time). He never forgot that, even through Alzheimer's dementia.
He always told me that story to illustrate that soldiers on any side are just people dealing with their own trauma and difficulty. I hope I never forget it.
Both of my grandparents are from Norway and lived through the Nazi invasion. My grandmother was really young so they sent her from Bergen to Ask. My grandpa was older and was in Lyngdal as a teen when they came in.
I remember he told me a story of where his mom once got caught hiding bread and grain from their farm in the floorboards to feed her family. They held an MP40 to her head and threatened to kill her and her family because of it, but thankfully they didn't.
He would also, along with his brothers, essentially ding dong ditch the Nazis. The main road into Lyngdal hugs a mountain, and they set up a gate with an alarm button on it. They sat up on the mountainside and threw rocks at the button until it went off, alerting all soldiers in town to rush to the gate.
When they weren't doing that, they were playing with each other by shooting .22s at each other's feet. Things were different back then.
Tragic Mistaken Identity...
Grandpa served in Vietnam during the height of the war. He's from Saigon (South Vietnamese) and worked with the US Pentagon so he had some weight to his name. His duty was to ID soldiers and send home letters to the families that their son has been KIA. My dad told me that one Tet (huge Vietnamese holiday) that there's was a mutual agreement between North and South to not fight so people can go home and be with their families. My grandpa and grandma took my two-month-old dad to a family member's home on the night of Tet and when the three of them returned home, many of their neighbors were standing outside of their house for some reason. Turns out that the North found out my grandpa was working with the US and came to their home to kill them, but they messed up and killed the family that was living next to them. My dad told me this story a few years ago and also said something like "They wouldn't have needed to waste a bullet on me, all they had to do was pinch my nose shut."
Try and hold me... I dare you.Giphy
My grandpa was from Poland. He got locked up in a concentration camp, escaped, got caught and sent to another concentration camp, escaped again, then made his way over to England.
I doth thy cap Sir...Giphy
My great grandfather was a boy in WW1. He met a New Zealand soldier in Albany, Western Australia where he lived. It was the last drop off point before the ANZACs left Aussie soil.
The soldier agreed to be his pen pal and started writing letters back to my great grandfather as well as sending a collection of badges from both sides. Then the letters stopped. He knew what had happened, but didn't find out definitive proof until the mid 1920s when he was older and the records became available, he had died on the Western Front. I think off the top of my head it was the Somme.
I have the badges sitting in my drawer next to me. My only real family heirloom, but I'll always respect and appreciate the soldier whose name my great grandfather had forgotten by the time I came around.
Sometimes all you need is strength...
Grandpa was a tank commander during WWII.
One night he was sitting in his tank guarding a crossroads when he heard the distinct sound of German soldiers coming down the road. I guess their boots had metal on the soles that made them click on pavement.
His gunner wanted to open up on them but Grandpa knew there was an orphanage down range from the Germans. So Grandpa hopped out of the the tank with his .45 to get them to surrender.
He snuck up on the Germans and ordered them to surrender. It was late in the war so these guys just threw their hands up immediately. Grandpa marched them back to his tank and handed them over to a nearby infantry unit who took them to the rear.
When he got back to his tank he went to clear his .45 and realized he never chambered a round. My Grandpa was at the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first tanks into Aachen. He liberated a concentration camp and had four tanks shot out from under him. He said realizing that his gun wasn't loaded when facing down those Germans was the only time during the war he was really scared.