They were called the greatest generation, those men who made sacrifices to save the country from aggression and war. We remember them as we celebrate and honor their victories. In remembering them, we forget any imperfections and simply say thank you.
My father, Ted Matthews, was one of the greatest generation who fought in World War II. He was stationed in the Philippines where he saw heavy combat. He was only 21 years old when he was drafted into the Army, leaving his wife expectant with her first child whom he saw many months later for the first time. He was a young man at the beginning of his adult life with large responsibilities and without the maturity and emotional foundation to leave his home and go to war. But he went nevertheless and returned to civilian life a changed person.
In those days following World War II there was no such thing as post traumatic stress disorder. No man could complain that he had been under stress and was feeling emotional pain. Instead men who suffered and grieved from those years of war turned inside and wept there. Some turned to drink; some took their pain and forged it into anvils of work and family life, not always happily.
I seldom knew my father all though he was present all my growing up years. That's because he was one of those who suffered after sacrifice and turned to the only acceptable medication he could use, which was alcohol. So I rarely saw him completely sober. He also had two bouts of malaria and complained about his physical pain for many years.
Today in my maturity I know my father. That's because I now know history, the pain of men who give their lives in sacrifice for others. Some die in that sacrifice; others live painfully, but the sacrifice was made none the less.
Preston Stelly, Randy Stelly's father, did not serve in either war, World War I or II. Instead his father’s life was devoted to caring for his family and also his community, largely black, without accolades and with much sacrifice. He was too young to serve in World War I. He was too old to be drafted for World War II. He did, however, comfort, give to and supply those who did go to war. His son Napoleon Stelly joined the Marines where he served in combat in Korea and two tours in Vietnam both as an advisor, then a combat Marine. He did this even though he lived in a country, the United States, where he was not treated as an equal to his white comrades of war.
Randy told me today, “I am so proud of my father and his sacrifices because through him my brother was able to go on and serve the country, earning the honor of giving in his own way on behalf of my family. Memorial Day is always special to me for that reason.”
Randy Stelly remembers his father on Memorial Day who gave in support of his community and offered his son to serve in the military honorably. I remember my father, Ted Matthews, who served in the Army, who came back with medals, and lived a life of no small heartache because of the memories of war.
I am not alone in my memories. Many other people across this great nation honor their fathers today. Join me in that honor wherever you are and however you spend your day that one day man will solve his problems in peaceful ways so war will not take our fathers from us.