My maternal grandfather was mean. That's not an insult but an objective remark. He wouldn't be offended, unless he were offended because the word "mean" just didn't do enough to cover the #%&*! he could be on occasion.
Of course, if you had gotten your legs machine-gunned off by Germans in North Africa in 1943, you'd probably be a little mean, too.
Today is Veterans Day. The very word "veteran" means so many different things to so many different people. But to many of us, the word veteran often brings to mind the image of a single person. A parent. Brother. Sister. Son. Daughter. Or maybe even someone like the late Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, the legendary soldier who died recently and personified both patriot and grizzled vet for so many people, including veterans themselves. Can't argue with that.
For me, the man who comes to mind is Granddaddy. Stories of his meanness are pretty legendary. Some, such as the time he blew up the back of a movie theater in Ideal with dynamite while trying make a war movie sound a little more realistic, I know are true. Others, such as when he supposedly shot a fellow soldier at Fort Benning because he refused to halt when Granddaddy was on guard duty, I'm not so sure about.
Problem is, those stories are heard to verify. I've read an account of the battle in which he lost his legs. He was one of Darby's Rangers and supposedly held one of his lost legs in one arm while firing his gun with the other. But, of course, there was no independent journalist on the ground in Tunisia. And when I was a child and asked how he lost them, they were either blown off by an airplane or chewed off by a crocodile depending on what kind of mood he was in. Obviously, no humans or reptiles could verify those stories, either.
The man loved the Roosevelts who occupied the White House at the time. And by all accounts, they thought a lot of him. Of course, the
only person I have to verify that is some lady named Eleanor Roosevelt.
The first lady had a column during the war called "My Day" that was circulated in many American newspapers. Her column of Feb. 21, 1944, mentions Granddaddy, or as she knew him, Cpl. Fred Dixon:
The Treasury Department was awarding a certificate to a patient who had sold the most war bonds. A commercial firm donated its time on the air for this program which has been carried on every afternoon at Walter Reed Hospital. The boys went on the air and told what had happened to them in the service of their country and then from their beds they answered the telephone and took orders for bonds. The first prize was a $500 bond, and it was won by Corporal Fred Dixon of Macon, Ga. He has lost both legs, but as we stood chatting, he told me that he used to be an electrician, and he said he was going to take advantage of every bit of training that the government could give him so he would have a better job in the future. That is the spirit which will win the war.
And another from Feb. 25, 1944:
At 6:30 p.m. Lieutenant John P. Dwyer of Walter Reed Hospital brought the three boys who won the prizes for selling war bonds -- Corporal Fred Dixon, Private Charles Goodman, and Private Jack Indictor, to see the White House. Corporal Dixon is getting along wonderfully well with his artificial legs and two canes. After they had done their sightseeing, they joined the family at dinner, and then I took them to the National Symphony Orchestra concert. It proved to be a very delightful evening which we all enjoyed.
He would never forget the kindness he felt from the Roosevelts, but he would eventually come to believe the U.S. government forgot his sacrifice because of the trouble he had getting adequate health care in his later years. I doubt he's the only veteran who ever felt that way.
But he never stopped loving his country. And I don't think I ever saw him tear up but once -- when he saw the leaders of Egypt and Israel shaking hands after signing the Camp David Peace Accords. I guess only people who have warred so hard can appreciate peace so much.
After seeing leaders of those nations shake hands, I wonder how he would feel about how divided the country he fought for has become 35 years later. He'd probably just shake his head and holler at me to bring his can of Prince Albert.
Today, we give all veterans the respect they are due. We should do the same the other 364 days of the year. And, maybe we ought to broker a little peace at home. Let's keep the wars where they belong -- overseas, and, when possible, in the past.
-- Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent whose "Best of Chris Johnson" is available for free downloads today only on the Amazon Kindle. Follow him at Facebook.com/KudzuKidWriting.