A few weekends ago I spent a fantastic weekend in Fredricksburg, TX. The weekend was an important one for me for many reasons, many of which I didn’t understand until the weekend was over. Don’t get me wrong…I accomplished what I had planned: Spending a stress-free weekend in an authentic German, Texas Hill Country town with my girlfriend where we ate good food, listened to good music, drank good wine at wineries, climbed the beautiful (and steep!) Enchanted Rock and generally just relaxed. What I hadn’t planned was the opportunity that I got to experience echoes from the past and remember people who I loved dearly.
Oh great, Wil is waxing nostalgic again… Well, you’re right, but I hope that you will bear with me…
My family (both sides) has a rich history of serving this country in the US Armed Forces.
My grandfather was an MP in the US Army during WWII and brought many Nazi soldiers to justice. I inherited some of the things that my grandfather had collected during the war and it helped to add color to the man who I knew as a strict, but loving former soldier. He was of German ancestry himself, so I often wonder what must have gone through his head as he served our country in the land from which his own family had come. He passed away when I was in college.
My father retired as a Major, US Army Intelligence. He server 4 tours in Vietnam during his service and was never allowed to talk about the things that he saw there. I lost him right after Thanksgiving in 2011 and I described his honorable burial at Arlington National Cemetery in one of my previous posts.
The grandfather I knew best was actually my mom’s stepfather, but I will always refer to him as my grandfather. He served in the US Air Force during WWII in the Pacific Theater and was captured. He spent 3 1/2 years as a POW and survived the infamous Bataan Death March, where thousands of captured soldiers met their deaths. After all the horrors he had experienced, he lived well into his 80s.
So you might ask yourself why I am reflecting on the service records of men from my family. Well, the reason is that Fredrickburg is the home of The National Museum of the Pacific War. This is a place that I had often wanted to visit but had not had a chance to until that weekend. I was floored by the size, layout, and rich experience that the museum has to offer. I thought that I had previously known a lot about the war based on the reading and research I had done about my grandfather. I was mistaken. I left the museum on both days humbled by the sacrifice that the soldiers in that and other wars have made for our country. I was overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the information that was available about all aspects of the War in the Pacific. It made me appreciate more completely the struggle our country went through as well as the personal struggle both my grandfathers experienced.
In addition, the weekend reverberated with memories of my father. Not so much due to the museum, though thinking about the military in any capacity takes me back to my childhood and being raised in a military family. Instead, memories of my dad came back to me at a restaurant where we had dinner during our stay. My dad was a gourmet cook and he loved to make the German dishes that he had grown up eating. One of his favorites was sauerbraten. It is a type of German pot roast that has a pickled or sour taste based on the fact that it is usually made with vinegar or wine. For many years of my childhood, I could not stand this dish. But gradually I gave in and came to enjoy it every time my dad made if for us. I ordered it, wondering if it the restaurant could do it justice. Every bite was one to be savored, not only because the chef did a great job on the dish, but because each filled me with thoughts of my father.
Many of us walk through our busy lives on a daily basis and don’t necessarily reflect on our parents, our grandparents or the instrumental people in our lives that have come before us. Some of us are the exact opposite and think about these people often. Many times though, it is the memories that come from unexpected sources that are the most rich and most poignant. On a weekend where I expected to make new memories with someone special, I was also honored by some I hadn’t thought of in quite some time. For both, I am very grateful.