Grandpa hides a small box of still-shiny medals away in a drawer where no one can find them.
“War is hell,” he said flatly.
He won’t talk about the war. He never saw combat. He said it was terrible, whatever he saw.
It was 1943, the height of World War II. At seventeen, my grandfather Bill and his classmates skipped out of classes at West High to join the navy. D-Day in June of 1944 did not end the fight against the Japanese in the South Pacific where he was stationed. The liberation campaign only began in the fall of 1944, ending when fighting stopped on August 15, 1945. My grandfather served until 1946, when on July 4th the US granted the Philippines independence.
My grandmother Zola and her sisters took turns in the kitchen, frying bacon in a black skillet to conceal the scent of tobacco smoke wafting from their boyfriends’ nostrils, hiding the sin from their father. Bill had returned home and planned to continue his naval career. His plans were interrupted as he and my grandmother married unexpectedly in the Salt Lake County courthouse on January 18, 1947.
I watched grandpa warm Sunday afternoons the summer I turned sixteen as he fasted, reaching heavenward for inspiration to bestow the blessings of a loving Father in Heaven, while he served as stake Patriarch. He taught me to love classical music, encouraged me to ask gospel questions, and taught me that counting my blessings would help me sleep. He lovingly told me, “No, your father should do it,” when I asked him to baptize me when I turned eight.
Yards of bustled raw silk crinkled and swished as I moved through the celestial room of the Salt Lake temple on my wedding day. I paused with my grandparents and mother to gaze into an adjacent sealing room. The audience had been small on January 18, 1956 as my grandparents knelt with my mother and three more children in white around the altar. He taught me by example that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ all things can be forgiven.
I called my grandpa a couple of weeks ago. He called me the wrong name. He doesn’t remember the war, his wedding day, or the names of his children.
On this Veterans’ Day, though he forgets, I will remember.