A Digital Veteran’s Tribute
Posted by Rob_Henseler
My apologies if what follows relates to nothing in particular from this week’s assignments. It does, however, relate to all the best that the web can do for us. It is also all I can think of right now because the story has reached its digital climax today. If people are worried about losing meaningful connections to those around them because of an over-reliance on internet technology, here’s a Veteran’s Day story about reconnecting.
My wife’s grandfather, born in 1894, was 23 years old when he joined the United States Army and served in France during WWI. In October of 1918, at the Argonne Forest, his unit came under attack, killing everyone but him. Though he had been shot in the thigh and through the hand, he was able to kill the enemy sniper that had destroyed his unit. After spending two months in a French hospital, he returned to the United States and was discharged from the service in April of 1919. He returned to his home in Bark River, Michigan, and the quiet life of a farmer.
In 1941 he was awarded the Purple Heart, and for many years after that, the medal sat on top of his dresser, underneath the portrait of him in his military uniform.
After his death in 1980, my wife’s grandmother needed to move to a smaller place, and as is typically the case, Items are given away. The Purple Heart went to my wife’s uncle. Years went by, as they always do. My wife’s uncle died, then his wife died, and eventually their son moved out of their house. When the house was being cleaned out, the Purple Heart could not be found.
That was a number of years ago. Every once in a while my wife and her mom talk about her grandpa, their memories, and his service. They share what little information they have, but are always left with the sadness that his military artifacts have probably been sold, with little thought of how costly they were to earn.
Enter a technological Veteran’s Day miracle. This morning, my wife was at the computer, again trying to find more information about her grandfather. For some reason, she searched images this time, found a picture of a Purple Heart, and followed that link to a site honoring wounded and fallen veterans. There was an entry for her grandfather, and the medal pictured beside his information had his name engraved on it.
The owner of the site collects Purple Hearts, researches the individual who is named on the medal, and posts the information and available pictures as a veterans memorial.
Jody, my wife, contacted the man who ran the site, told him the family’s story, and said that she would like to be able to buy back the medal in order to give it to her mom. He normally does not do such things, but he was touched by Jody’s words, and the Purple Heart is coming home.
Here is a connection to family that was lost–most likely sold. Through the internet, that connection can be re-established, at least to some degree. It is truly amazing to think what individuals can do and who they can touch as a result of digital technology. When my wife’s grandfather left the military, he could not read or write. He left his mark, an “x” on his discharge papers. He also left his mark on his family, and to a degree, the democracy we benefit from today. And sites like the one my wife stumbled across today are sharing that mark with the world.
About Rob_HenselerRob has been teaching high school English and Language Arts for 20 years. When he's not at school, he enjoys making and listening to music, woodworking, canoeing, and hands-on traditional skills.
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