Yesterday was Memorial Day and I spent a bit of time thinking about my grandfather, James D. O’Shea, who passed away in April of last year. I never heard his story firsthand, so I have to base it off of what I heard over the years from other people and hope that nothing was lost or exaggerated in the process – however, I did not think that should stop me. By the time Papa (that’s what I called him) was my age, he had served honorably under General Patton in WWII as a rifleman. He had finished a first tour and had been fighting in his second when it was cut short. He was hit by shrapnel from a mortar explosion while on the front lines in the act of carrying injured soldiers on his back to safety. His actions, which earned him the Bronze Star, also cost him a leg, despite arduous medical procedures to save it. He spent two and a half years in hospitals, much of that time spent with his arm sewn to his leg in an attempt to keep the leg alive. My family has several pictures of him during this time, and he’s smiling in all of them.
He was a quiet man, not in the strength of his voice, but in how cerebral he was. He was brilliant, a walking dictionary of information, but he never tried to impress you with it. You just understood sometimes because he would chime in with random tidbits of knowledge that made you wonder about the depths of his stores. His laughter was contagious, I still remember it clearly; raspy, deep and genuine. He was humble in ways I cannot fathom. I’m not sure if the facts are correct on this, but apparently he was also awarded the Silver Star, but never went to pick it up. For those who don’t want to click the links, the Bronze Star is the 4th highest honor given to a service member, and the Silver Star is the 3rd. I never once heard him talk about it, which is not surprising since I know what I would have said and apparently he resented being called a hero.
My grandfather wanted no praise for his duty. I think he hated war and what it did to people, and most of all, what it made people do. He served voluntarily, shed his blood for his country and mourned the tragedy of what people are capable of.
His example of what a soldier should be has stuck with me. While war will always exist and the circumstances will change constantly, the acts of sacrifice and the inevitable suffering do not, especially on behalf of service members. Maybe it’s because of the example of my grandfather, but my respect in this regard will probably never be boasted. Military duty should not be celebrated, it should be revered. Thanks, when it takes form, should come in silent respect and admiration, in the soothing snap of a flag hung outside a home, in the shared sense of loss when a casket is shipped back home to a broken family, in the understanding of the turmoil within a soldiers mind at having to do and see things they should never have been expected to do in the first place, if it were a perfect world.
Papa, I write this in memoriam of the suffering you shouldered in silence and in the throws of your dreams. The magnitude of your actions will humble me forever. Thank you for teaching me the strength in silence. Thank you for your sacrifice – you were the hero you never claimed nor wanted to be.