Grounded by a bad head cold, I ushered out the final hours of 2012 by watching the movie "Memorial Day" on Netflix.
It featured a World War II vet begrudgingly talking about his wartime experiences with a curious and insistent grandson in the early 1990s. It tugged at me, because in the movie the veteran character actor James Cromwell resembled my father physically and in his speaking patterns.
Not to mention his reluctance to talk about his combat experiences in World War II. I certainly understood it from the standpoint of not wanting to think about or relive the terrors of combat, or have the memories of close friends killed in battle resurrected from the hazy mists of the past.
But, as Cromwell's character noted late in the movie, souvenirs of battle are valuable for the stories that come with them - stories that reflect who we are and how we handled the challenges we faced.
That chat about a few souvenirs on a solitary Memorial Day weekend afternoon was all Cromwell's character shared about his war-time experiences, and it reminded me that so many family members who had loved ones serve in combat never hear about what that experience was like.
Compared to so many of them, I and my family have an encyclopedia of information about where and how Dad fought in France and Germany late in the war. Oh, I wanted more details, and poked and prodded and pleaded with him over the years. He shared in bits and pieces, and on a couple of occasions ricocheted from beginning to end - taxing ordeals that left him exhausted. I wanted more, because I knew the more he shared the more people would appreciate the man he was late in life, how much he accomplished despite the high physical and emotional price he paid while defending and protecting freedom.
In the years since he died in 2006, I have found hand-written notes scrawled in book margins, on notebook paper, on Big Chief tablet sheets...all sorts of places. I'm trying to pull it together into a cohesive narrative, so future generations can be blessed with his stories of what he experienced in combat.
To understand my father, you have to understand what he went through in battle and how it changed him. He once told me he was glad he was in combat, that he wouldn't trade it for anything in the world - but that he also wouldn't want to go through it again for anything in the world.
What he went through was so intense, so difficult, that when he would talk about them to Gulf War veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder they wouldn't believe him. "It couldn't have been that bad," they said. But it was that bad, and worse still for countless other veterans.
The stories are vital, for they are vivid tapestries of the human experience and reflections of the human spirit responding to extraordinary circumstances.
Plus, they are reminders of what Confederate general Robert E. Lee meant when he said, "It is good that war is so terrible, or we would come to love it."
Stories of all kinds are vital pieces of family and community history, so I encourage you to share them whenever and however you can. Too often they die with loved ones, and valuable knowledge and inspiration is lost.