Today is Memorial Day in the US--the day we remember the men and women who died while serving their country in the armed services. There are many different stories about these people and I'm going to tell one of them here about Ward's grandfather, Leo.
Leo was the son of Polish immigrants and as a young man joined the army is 1929. He became part of the Army Engineer division. Later at a dance, he met a smart and pretty young girl, LeeAnn, and married her in 1932. They soon added a baby boy to the family and two years later they had another. After renting a small home, Leo built a house for his growing family. Being an enterprising young man, he used discarded lumber from a railroad yard for much of the house. (By the way, the house that he built still stands firm today.)
Leo's and LeeAnn's happy life was not affected much when World War II broke out in Europe in 1939. However, the Army started to send units to Iceland to build defensive fortifications to be ready just in case. At the end of 1941, his unit was assigned to go to Iceland to help in these preparations. While they were in New York waiting for their boat, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The US immediately declared war against Japan and her allies, including Germany. The US was officially in World War II.
Leo and his unit continued with their orders to go to Iceland, but they didn't make it. Their boat was attacked in the Atlantic by a German submarine and had to be repaired before it could go any further. During the month that the repairs took, the soldiers got to go back and spend time with their families. No one knew that this would be the last time they would see each other.
Their boat was repaired, and they were finally on their way. They made it to Iceland and completed their work. However, on the way back to the states, the boat was attacked by another German submarine and this time it sank. The seas were rough which made it difficult for many to survive. Most went down with the ship. First Leo was declared missing at sea and later he was declared killed in action. It wasn't until several years later that his family knew the details of what happened because much of the information was classified.
LeeAnn was suddenly left with two young boys to raise on her own. A few months later, the unthinkable happened and her younger son was killed in an accident. Despite the terrible losses, she kept going. With various jobs, hard work, and the help of family she carved out a good life for her and her son (Ward's father).
When I met LeeAnn, these events had happened over 40 years ago, but it was like they had happened yesterday for her. She talked about the surprise that Leo was going to bring her when he got home from Iceland and still wondered what it was going to be. She showed me some of the subflooring that Leo built where you could read writing from the railroad cars. She talked about how long it took for them to declare Leo dead and how that affected her benefits. But mostly she talked about the surprise her husband was going to bring her. She thought that it was going to be something to do with their tenth wedding anniversary that they were going to celebrate when he came home.
On this day and everyday, we remember Leo and the sacrifice he made for his country. We also want to remember all of the other men and women who have died in service and hope that their stories have been told. But most importantly, we want to thank each and everyone of them and their families. Because of their sacrifices, we can live a good life today.