Monday, May 25, 2009

"...feels like home to me..."

My Pap-Pap was a soldier in WWII. He served in Europe ("We'd be in Germany and they'd tell us, 'Wake up! You're walking to Croatia today!'") and the Pacific.

He died from lung cancer when I was 8. I wish I had a picture in digital form to share with all of you. He was tall and broad shouldered with thick black hair and bright blue eyes - a Croat through and through. In he and Gram's wedding picture, he looks like a handsome movie star.

I think about him often and wish he was still alive for many reasons. Given that my college career involved alot of talk about warfare and WWII war theory, I know we would have had alot to talk about had he lived to see me as an adult.

I've asked my dad throughout the years if Pap talked much about the war. Dad said that he never talked about the bad stuff, only the good stuff - the people he met, the things he saw - but even then, the stories were few and far between.

One night years and years ago as we were sitting around after a family dinner, drinking after-dinner drinks and sipping coffee, my dad told a story Pap had told him about being in Croatia.

I won't do this story justice. I'm not a storyteller like my dad and Pap. And I'm already starting to get teary-eyed. But here we go...

Pap lied about his age to enlist in the army. He was only 17. He shipped out to Europe and spent alot of time in Croatia. He knew little Croatian because his mother, an immigrant who came to the US from Croatia at the age of 5, insisted that all of her 8 children speak only English so they'd fit in.

A kid himself, Pap was a favorite with the young Croat guys in the villages the American soldiers went to to pass out aid. Pap's company of soldiers stayed in this one town by Zagreb for about a week. Pap was able to communicate to the group of Croat teenagers that he was Croatian and that his mom was from this area but left to come to America when she was very small.

The Croat boys asked what his family name was and what his mother's name was. Pap told them. They raced off and Pap went back to his duties.

The next day, Pap's company was to leave for their next post. The Croat boys came to see him and told him that he had to go with them to see something. Nervous, Pap followed the boys down a dirt path in the village to an old shack. They told him to go in, go see the old lady who lives there.

The tiny old lady, sitting by herself on a dirt floor looked up and sized Pap up with her blue eyes. It was his maternal grandmother. Thrown together by war, my Pap and my great-great-great Grandma PT were able to meet.

The story is so heartbreakingly beautiful and when my father tells it, as I often ask him to do, there is never a dry eye in the house when he gets to the end.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. I hope you and your families have a beautiful story to tell today.

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