Take time to appreciate the service of others
Family, important veterans in my life and uncovering roots were all a part of my vacation to my childhood home in New Jersey last week. My primary purpose was to be with my mom to celebrate her 85th birthday. Over the last 40 years, I’ve lived all over the country and much of the time 2,000 miles or more away from family. It has been a challenge to juggle my career and my personal life. With so many transplants in our area, I’m sure many of you can identify.
Mom and I never got along very well growing up. Still, I decided several years ago not to hold grudges and do my best to appreciate her challenges and the realization that she, like all mothers, played a major role in shaping who I am as a person.
My dad, who passed in 2008, was my inspiration and driving force in life. A week prior to Veterans Day I enjoyed my annual cup of coffee with Dad at his grave at the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery, where he lies at rest with his brother Bill, both World War II veterans. I played one of my dad’s favorite songs, “Sing, Sing, Sing” performed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and imagined him listening to music with me as we enjoyed our coffee and talked about life. Sure, it was more of a spiritual moment for me than Dad, but who knows? Spiritually, I hope he enjoys those visits as much as I do.
Dad served in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in Europe in an anti-tank division. He served on the front lines for way too long and was awarded a Bronze Star for enduring the non-stop horrors of war.
Dad, like me, had a tough childhood, although unlike me, that was coupled with two Purple Hearts and a lifetime of scars as he valiantly served our country. I followed in my dad’s footsteps in the newspaper industry, although not in battle.
Later that week I took a trip to the suburbs of Philadelphia to a family cemetery that I hadn’t visited in 20 years. My grandfather Sam Kwait was buried there with my grandmother Minnie. He joined the Marines at age 15, five years after immigrating to this country. He served with another colorful general, “Black Jack” Pershing, first in Mexico where he chased Pancho Villa, and later in Europe where he was a victim of mustard gas, leaving him a lasting memory of WWI. Ironically, Patton was part of that earlier expedition.
I am of the Vietnam era but did not serve. I was in college the last year of the draft in 1972 with the unlucky lottery number of 32. When I was called for my preinduction physical and pronounced a fit 1-A, I scurried to get my college deferment. I have mixed feeling about not serving my country and have tremendous respect for those who went before me, although I have no regrets about not participating in that specific war.
World War II veterans are nearly all gone, with Korean and Vietnam veterans quickly aging. In many ways I wish I had the interest in my family to learn firsthand about their immigrant and military experiences and encourage my children to understand what got them here.
My trip included a couple of family reunions. It was fantastic to reconnect and to remember. After the trip, I stopped in at JH Chen’s for some take-out and ran into Glenn Vawter and Floyd Diemoz enjoying dinner together with their spouses. All have deep Glenwood Springs roots. I stopped for a moment admiring the foreign experience those folks enjoy.
In many ways I wish I had the interest in my family to learn firsthand about their immigrant and military experiences when I was younger. Many of you still have that opportunity — take advantage of it.
Michael Bennett is publisher of the Post Independent.
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