Remembering veterans in my family

Today is the day we remember those who died in wars. Wars for our freedoms, pointless wars, wars against tyranny, wars of invasion. There is no way around the fact that wars are awful, but regardless if you feel a war is justified or not – it always involves suffering.

My Grandfather was a First World War Vet.

Leigh Jack McLain

That is him on the right with my Great-gradfather and two of his other brothers. As opposed to most Great War Veterans, for my grandfather WWI was an easy war, he was drafted when he was 18 in college in 1918 and never left the US but only slept in a barracks and drilled alot.

Tecumseh Barracks

I never knew my grandfather, so I never had a chance to ask him about his role in the military but from his pictures from that era – it looks like he spent the time larking around, drinking with his buddies and picking up dames. Kind of like what I thought war would be like when I was a kid – a childlike unrealstic view of how it looked kind of fun with no understanding or thought about death and suffering.

My father on the other hand, was a veteran of the Second World War.

Howard McLain

That is my father in late 1945, after he came home from Europe. Private 1st Class in the US infantry. I was only vaguely aware as a child my daddy was a war veteran, with my only hints being him (annoyingly) singing Reveille to wake me up in the morning and wearing his old army jacket to work in the yard. When I got a bit older I used to try and ask him about the war. His usual response was ‘I didn’t do much’ or ‘it was scary’. It was pretty clear he didn’t want to talk about it. I used to call him every year on this day, he thought I was crazy and would remind me he was only in the war for a short time.

After he died, I found his letters home. They are calm and gentle and talk a lot about girls, food and the state of his rifle – like any 19 year old kid, I suppose. Even though he was mostly evasive about the matter, he did tell me some things – snapshot images of frightfully disturbing things. Things about being shot at. Things about concentration camps. He also told me about how happy/relieved he was when the atomic bomb was dropped, how much he loved the English country-side and the beautiful German women. My mother used to try to get him to travel to Europe in the 60s – he refused, he’d already been there – he didn’t want to go back.

I will never know the truth of what my daddy experienced and perhaps I don’t need to, I was his daughter and the last person he was ever likely to tell the details. But what I do know is that days like these are for us all to take a minute and think about all those who suffered and are suffering from wars and know that in fact it is never ever easy.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain is a bio-physicist in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford (UK), but she blogs in a personal capacity. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain
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2 Responses to Remembering veterans in my family

  1. “But what I do know is that days like these are for us all to take a minute and think about all those who suffered and are suffering from wars and know that in fact it is never ever easy.”

    Well said.

  2. Laurence Cox says:

    I think we should all be glad that our generation has not had to face a world war in our time. My paternal grandfather was in the British Army in WW1 and my father in Bomber Command in WW2. I would not be here if either of them had not come home safely.

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