Many of us are not aware of the memories that our nation’s celebration of Veterans Day every Nov. 11 brings to the forefront of the men and women whose lives we reflect on.
Many of my friends and family members in the circle feel that they were blessed to have served their country and are still on this side to celebrate with us. When they do open up and share with us, the emotions expressed are mixed with joy and sadness. Joy that they are still able to celebrate and sadness for friends who were left behind or who returned and are no longer able to enjoy life to the fullest.
I can recall my son’s father, Paul E. Samuel Sr., grimacing when particular thoughts came to his mind. Many of the details about his experience he would not share because they conjured up too many unhealthy memories. Paul Edward Samuel, Sr., served in the Marines during World War II. He was in Guam, the Pacific arena, and would only share shallow and limited details about his time in the war.
After being honorably discharged, he settled down in the New York City area. His brother Herbert Samuel, who was an airman returning from service around the same time, also settled in the New York area to raise his family. They remained together for a short while until Herbert passed away — and because the two brothers were very close, this left a hole in Paul’s heart.
Not long after that Paul Sr., who was also trying to get himself together while suffering from the after-effects of time spent in the Marines, was then hit with a third blow.
He lost his wife, whom he loved dearly. Louise, the mother of his three beautiful children, died suddenly — leaving him behind on Long Island, New York, with the responsibility of raising the children. His wife was the pillar for the family. That task became too much for him, and he moved back to Georgia where he had grown up and had family who could help him with the children, who still needed adult guidance.
Because he had three sons, he willingly shared what kind of gun he fired while in the Marines, which was an artillery gun. We now understand why he suffered from PTSD. Loud noises really bothered him. When he left the service of the Marines, many of the after-effects of the World War were not understood by those in the medical field nor the family to whom he returned.
He was never treated for his condition and everyone in his circle of friends and family just tried to deal with him, with limited knowledge about how to love and accept him. We all just tried to live with it while he was dying from it. It drove him to attempt to bury his pain by drinking with his buddies. He loved nothing more than getting with buddies who had served in the armed service.
I can recall one particular day when he and his buddies were sitting in the backyard seeing who could come up with the biggest Army tale, he broke his tradition and decided to ask his friend to share one of their painful memories. He and one of the friends, Mr. Raymond Payne, Sr, had served together and had witnessed particular incidents. Raymond was asked did he remember what happened if a soldier on either side was killed and had gold or silver in his mouth. Paul could not share it himself because it was too emotionally devastating.
Raymond Sr. replied by saying, “Oh! Yes, that was a most excruciating experience that we were required to carry out.” The friend said that they were required to remove the gold fillings by using the Army knife that the soldiers were required to carry in their backpacks for whatever needed purpose arose. Gold and silver were most valuable during those war days. This tale was told with much sadness and uncomfortableness.
Paul Sr. called for the sharing of that incident over 45 years ago, and I experience the same emotions today as we all did that day. From that point on, I never asked him to delve into his Marine experiences. The two oldest children also stayed away from that part of his life experience because they understood it to be painful for their Dad. The daughter and the youngest son never experienced his unhappy stories. Paul Sr. always wanted those two to experience happiness, joy, laughter and did his best to show that side to them.
Out of all the years I shared with Paul Sr., that is the only time that he was willing to share his Marine story in my presence — and even that time he had to chase it down with gin and Coke.
Out of all the years of trying hard to return to normalcy, he just could never get it together. He put forth great effort to make others happy, but all to no avail for himself. He was most friendly, laughed easily and loved people in general of any status, race or creed. He departed this life at a much too early age. The older he got, the more his retrospection of past experiences affected his mood negatively.
Many groups celebrate the special day, but let us always remember that the experience was not a fun time for many. Those veterans that have since passed on since their return, will never hear America trying to get it right now by saying, “Thank you for your service.”
“It’s a little late for that,” says William Reynolds, and he goes on to say, “Don’t judge me until you walk a mile in my shoes.”