Monday, November 12, 2007

Remembering

My paternal grandfather had one arm and one stump. "Stumpy," as he called it, was endlessly fascinating to us. I remember tenderly putting a bandaid on the end of the stump on more than one occasion as a kid.

Eventually I learned that Grandpa's arm no longer needed bandaids, since the amputation happened long before I was born. Grandpa lost his arm on Okinawa, in April of 1945. Grandpa's injury is a huge part of family lore, as he was very fortunate to make it back to the US at all. And without Grandpa, there'd be no Dad, no me, no sister.

Grandpa was on an army pickup truck getting ready to move. He'd loaned something to a friend, but volunteered to get off the truck to go and get it since his friend forgot to bring it with him. Someone else took the seat that Grandpa had, the seat against the driver's side of the cab. When Grandpa returned, he sat elsewhere in the back of the pickup. Moments later, shots were fired at the vehicle from the sky. The soldier who took my grandfather's seat was killed instantly.

Grandpa knew he'd been hit badly. He called a friend over, and asked him to remove his jacket (somehow he was on the ground at this point, I'm not sure if he was 'blown' out or if he somehow climbed down). When he did, his right arm came off with his jacket. His friend ran away at the sight, and my grandfather never knew what became of him. Another soldier came along and tied a tourniquet on his arm.

Besides losing his right arm, his elbow in his left arm was completely destroyed. It remained bent at an oddly crooked angle for the rest of his life. His legs were pockmarked from bullets that were never removed. The medical staff didn't believe he'd live, but somehow he kept surviving another day.

He was in a hospital on Guam. When they still weren't sure he was going to make it, they sent another wounded soldier on a ship back to the US. That ship was sunk on route to Hawaii. Eventually he made it to Hawaii, then the US, where he boarded a train going back east. He remembers the people in the Midwest who'd come to the train station because they knew returning vets were on the train. They'd cheer and send homemade goodies onto the train for them.

Eventually he was treated at Walter Reed, and then spent some time recovering in Virginia. My Grandma came down from Brooklyn, where she was living with her in-laws. She became pregnant with my father while Grandpa was recuperating :)

I have a copy of the telegram the army sent as well as two letters that an Army chaplain wrote on behalf of Grandpa. The last time I saw my Grandpa my son was about 1.5 years old. Grandpa had a feeling I might not see him again, since we were living in Florida and he in California. He told me to make sure I told my children about what he'd been through. I've shared his story, my old photocopies, and ration books my grandmother gave me. I've shown them the Purple Heart. One day I hope they'll want to hear his story in his own words, via a tape recording my Dad made.

I never realized that my grandfather would be considered 'disabled' until I was in college. He did just about everything, without the aid of a prosthetic arm. He had one at first, but never found it comfortable. The grandkids would shake their heads at photos of him with two arms- it looked so strange to us!

I hear about the young amputees coming back from Iraq. I know that they are fortunate to receive much more advanced medical care in the field than Grandpa did, not to mention robotic prostheses. And yet, I fear that many of them will be worse off than he was. Many of them have also sufferred traumatic brain injuries.

I don't know their names, but I hold them in my heart. I pray that they can go on and have as full a life as my grandfather did.

5 comments:

Misty said...

this was a really beautiful post! What an inspiration he was, and thank you for sharing his story... he survived something horrible to bring encouragement to others.( among other things)

Kate said...

I had a great-grandfather with one arm as well. He managed to become the 1937 US lawn bowling champion. Weird, huh?

Anyway, that leads me to the fact that I've tagged you with the 7 Things You May Not Know About Me meme. You can go to my blog (if you want) for more details.

Thanks!

K.

Hope said...

This was so inspiring to read. I have a few Marines I support who would love to know this story.

Moonshadow said...

Greetings, I'm over from Kate's blog. Here's a pbs link that you might want to check out...
http://www.pbs.org/perilousfight/preserving/
Seems like someone else is out there collecting WWII stories also, I just can't think who it might be at present. Well worth preserving, you do your grandpa proud.

shisomama said...

what a great post. you're so lucky that you have all your great memories, mementos, and best of all for future generations (in my opinion) the tape recording your father had the foresight to make. it'll be such an incredible thing for your kids to listen to later on.