The train station in Sparta, Wisconsin was a sad place that spring morning of 1943. Training was over, so soldiers who had their families still with them took their wives and children to the station to send them home. After the Louisiana Maneuvers, and then cold weather training in Wisconsin, the Second Infantry Division finally had its orders to Europe. These soldiers would be boarding troop ships headed for Ireland and final staging. Their goal: Join with others to defeat Hitler on his own soil.
Paw Paw carried my great-aunt Kay onto the train while my great-grandmother Nana took her seat. As my great-grandfather gently placed his infant daughter into the arms of his wife, I can only imagine the emotion that came over them. Before he kissed them good-bye, Paw Paw removed a tiny ribbon from Kay’s hair and placed it in his wallet.
What happened next is so vivid in Nana’s memory. While most of the other soldiers left the station after putting their families aboard, Paw Paw remained on the platform as the train pulled away. She watched as he removed his cap and held it over his heart. It was a solemn salute, I’m sure; perhaps it was even a gesture of resolve that, someday, they would be together again. Nana says Paw Paw held that salute until he, the platform and the station were out of sight.
History favored this story and this family. Paw Paw drove a truck onto Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy. Ultimately, he drove that truck right into Germany. They were victorious, but at a cost. Paw Paw came home to his family; Nana’s brother did not.
I look forward to a full and happy life every bit as good as what Paw Paw and Nana have enjoyed for many years. But I also know there will be times of difficulty along the way. During those times, I will hold to faith and family, just as Paw Paw held onto that little piece of ribbon for 60 years. And I know that, if the time ever comes for me to exercise the courage of my great-grandparents, I’ll do just fine.
After all, it’s in the blood.
A semi-retired child and adolescent psychologist and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the author of The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child, as well as other books and articles. He also founded The Changing Behavior Network, an early internet podcast and blog supporting young people and their families. You can visit his blog at Itsaboutthem.wordpress.com.
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