What my grandfather found in photo of war dead

I came across an old photo the other day, something my grandfather had held onto -- a gruesome image of a pile of bur...

Posted: May 29, 2018 11:19 AM
Updated: May 29, 2018 11:19 AM

I came across an old photo the other day, something my grandfather had held onto -- a gruesome image of a pile of burned corpses. It appears to have been taken somewhere in France during World War I.

It's not clear to me whether the corpses are soldiers or civilians, American or French. I can't tell by looking at it who burned them or why. And I have no idea how my grandfather came by the image, or why he kept it all those years.

Pop had been a sailor aboard the battleship Utah during the war. Utah was one of several Navy ships tasked in 1918 with escorting US troop convoys as they approached the British Isles. She operated out of Bantry Bay, Ireland.

Pop never spoke much about the war, at least not voluntarily. But then, he never much spoke about anything. Quiet man. And sober -- literally and figuratively. He never took a drop.

The only war memory Pop ever shared with me was the sight of pulling into an Irish port and seeing row upon row of dead laid out upon the pier, ready for the return voyage home. Some, he said, had been so recently killed they weren't even in caskets.

Pop was about 18 at the time, a kid himself. He joined the Navy in 1915, lying about his age to escape a tough situation at home.

He felt fortunate. Though German attacks on the convoys were a constant threat, Pop knew life at sea -- though not without risk -- was better than the life of a foot soldier in the trenches. I never heard him express anything but reverence for the grunts.

Maybe that's why he kept the photo. Maybe it served as a reminder of the ugly toll war demands of a country, of a people and of the troops who have to fight it. Pop died a long time ago, so I never got to ask him. I'm going to choose to believe he never wanted to forget those doughboys on the pier or how lucky he had been or what sort of life he wanted to live when his time in the service was up.

For Pop, it seemed to me, every day was a kind of Memorial Day.

We will do and say all the right things this weekend. We'll fly the flag. We'll say a prayer. We'll salute the troops.

We will feel proud and sorrowful at the same time. We will hug our little ones a little tighter, and we'll think about all those Gold Star families out there -- wives without husbands, husbands without wives, children without moms or dads and moms and dads without their children.

Maybe we'll decide to get active in a veterans, wounded warrior or family support organization. I hope so. And maybe some of us will shed a tear for them, those for whom life will never be the same.

But then, for the most part, our lives will go back to being the same.

And, for the most part, that's just fine. That's what those brave men and women were fighting for.

I believe, because I had the privilege of knowing a couple of them before our enemies snuffed out their lives, that those who have fallen in our defense would not want us to mourn forever their loss. I think they would want us to live, and to do so happily.

What a precious gift. Which is why it's so important that, in accepting it, we remember them and their families, and the opportunities they gave us to be just a little bit better than we were yesterday.

Jaimie Leonard was that kind of person. Gregarious, grateful and fun-loving. Always putting others first.

We had worked together on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. I treasured her friendship.

An altercation broke out between Afghan soldiers who Jaimie was mentoring in 2013. One of them grabbed a gun and started shooting. Jaimie went down and never got back up.

She was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, which made her the most senior female Army officer to be killed in the war -- a war still raging.

Jaimie knew a thing or two about sacrifice. She'd lost friends to the fight. She saw firsthand the effect that loss had on their families. She once penned a compelling Memorial Day piece in her hometown newspaper, The Warwick Advertiser, in which she detailed the struggles of the surviving wife of one such friend killed in Iraq.

"I think a piece of her also died that day," Jaimie said of the widow. "[But] as I've gained more perspective, I've also regarded other concepts such as citizenship in a different light."

She ended her piece with a charge to us all: "Take measure of what you have done for your country, and ask yourself if you could do more."

I carry a picture of Jaimie with me these days, and look at it often. I love that big, toothy, girl-next-door smile of hers.

My photograph is certainly easier to look at than the one my grandfather kept. But it has exactly the same effect on me. It reminds me of the ugly toll war demands, particularly from our soldiers and their families. It reminds me how lucky I am to have known someone like Jaimie and to live in this great country. And it reminds me to take measure of what I've done for that country, and whether I could do more.

It helps make every day a kind of Memorial Day.

Picture that.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 768624

Reported Deaths: 13993
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1055891807
Lake569801031
Allen43032699
St. Joseph37344568
Hamilton37335426
Elkhart29783470
Tippecanoe23503230
Vanderburgh23240405
Porter19580327
Johnson18843392
Hendricks18089323
Madison13575347
Clark13552198
Vigo12869256
LaPorte12578225
Monroe12575178
Delaware11155198
Howard10693237
Kosciusko9792124
Hancock8761150
Bartholomew8274157
Warrick8084157
Floyd8043182
Grant7378181
Wayne7239201
Boone7211105
Morgan6924143
Marshall6345117
Dubois6283118
Cass6096112
Dearborn602178
Noble600890
Henry5958111
Jackson517277
Shelby511598
Lawrence4928127
Gibson463696
Montgomery459292
DeKalb456785
Clinton456055
Harrison454077
Huntington417882
Whitley416745
Steuben411260
Miami406073
Jasper401655
Knox388691
Putnam385762
Wabash370384
Adams353856
Ripley351971
Jefferson343487
White340154
Daviess3089100
Wells304081
Greene295185
Decatur292693
Fayette286564
Posey282635
Scott281058
LaGrange277772
Clay274949
Washington254637
Randolph247783
Jennings239749
Spencer238731
Fountain235850
Starke229959
Owen222959
Sullivan221643
Fulton208945
Jay203032
Carroll197722
Orange191756
Perry189939
Vermillion181144
Rush177627
Tipton173347
Franklin172535
Parke155916
Pike142534
Blackford138032
Pulaski123748
Newton123336
Benton109715
Brown106243
Crawford105816
Martin92515
Warren87915
Switzerland8378
Union73610
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1125420

Reported Deaths: 20490
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1305631493
Cuyahoga1173952263
Hamilton825481261
Montgomery536581062
Summit489381014
Lucas43799834
Butler40064614
Stark33876939
Lorain26072510
Warren24959312
Mahoning22738613
Lake21482396
Clermont20425261
Delaware19169138
Licking16879227
Trumbull16829492
Fairfield16825207
Medina15880276
Greene15565254
Clark14366308
Portage13450218
Wood13358201
Allen12064245
Richland11748213
Miami11047228
Wayne9275228
Columbiana9216236
Muskingum9144137
Pickaway8755123
Tuscarawas8724255
Marion8716140
Erie8146166
Ashtabula7280179
Hancock7050135
Ross7031165
Geauga6975153
Scioto6726108
Belmont6224179
Lawrence5964104
Union591649
Jefferson5729162
Huron5644122
Sandusky5498130
Darke5448131
Seneca5380128
Washington5373111
Athens527260
Auglaize507787
Mercer491785
Shelby484397
Knox4621113
Madison448066
Ashland446198
Defiance439499
Fulton436875
Putnam4358104
Crawford4120111
Brown410462
Preble3956107
Logan392279
Clinton391466
Ottawa376481
Highland366668
Williams357378
Champaign349860
Guernsey331554
Jackson321954
Perry299050
Morrow294943
Fayette289350
Hardin279665
Henry277467
Coshocton273061
Holmes2726102
Van Wert252365
Gallia251150
Adams250958
Pike244837
Wyandot235557
Hocking222963
Carroll201449
Paulding180142
Meigs151540
Monroe137945
Noble137939
Harrison115438
Morgan111724
Vinton87517
Unassigned04
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