You are not how you feel or think. You are what you say and do.
My grandfather took this photo in 1942 during World War II. The dead man laying in the field towards the left of the frame was his bunkmate. He only showed me the photos he took during his years overseas once and I never saw them again until I inherited them when he died. I woke up today feeling compelled to dig them out and share them.
This weekend I was overcome with a strange thankfulness that my grandfather is no longer here. How could I possibly explain to him- a man who lied about his age to go fight nazis at 16, and who spent the rest of his life ravaged by the effects of war and a bullet he took in the leg- that nazis were marching on american soil in 2017? How could I tell him that a woman and two state troopers died during a protest against their resurgence? I mean that literally, how would I actually sit down and tell him that white supremacists are energetic and demonstrative again? My grandfather rarely talked about the war and he hated anything that glorified it; he was disgusted every time a new hollywood blockbuster came out, hated the idea of movie executives making millions off the stories of veterans. ‘Give the veterans the damn money and I’ll start seeing them’, he’d say. The war changed him in vast, unknowable ways.
my grandfather getting his hair cut by his brothers the day 3 of them enlisted
I grew up with war in my house. When I was a kid, my grandfather and I shared a bedroom wall and sometimes I would wake to him screaming through a nightmare. I would rush in and shake him and he would always awaken with the same terror in his eyes. My grandfather was the toughest man I’d ever known, it always shook me to see him like that. It gave me a great understanding that war isn’t some abstract concept or thing written about in books. It’s not prevented from hilarious tweets and memes. It is awful and real and entirely possible when a group of people become complacent. It kills people and the ones that live through it are still ruined in some way.
My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s later in his life. But even when he forgot everything, me included, he always knew his army number. It was the one thing his disease could not take from him, it was permanently etched inside him. He could be totally out of it and you’d ask for it and he’d proudly shout out ‘E47114’. I tattooed that number on me years ago, not because I thought of him as a soldier, but because it was the most indelible part of him and the part of himself that he clung to the most.
We can’t for one fucking second think that it’s a coincidence that all this is happening just as World War II is rapidly fading from living memory. I still remember learning about war for the first time, and wondering how people could have possibly let it happen. But wasn’t it amazing to know that our country was on the right side of history? Growing up with a grandfather like mine gave me a deep appreciation for history and sacrifice and virtue. It still blows my mind sometimes to think of all those people who volunteered, who stood up for what they believed in and were willing to even die for that, for others they didn’t even know.
I truly believe we are in the middle of a shameful chapter, that we will look back upon this time and wonder what we were thinking. Make no mistake, how we behave now is how we are going to have to explain ourselves to our children. Every person, especially white people, should be denouncing the disgusting public displays of racism in the world right now. Silence IS complicity. You are not how you feel or think. You are what you say and do. Whether that’s in real life or on social media or in calling out people for racist jokes, use your damn voice. Let it be known.
So one day when your grandkids learn about these years, they’ll know that you were on the right side of history.
forever proud to be this man’s granddaughter.