Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

"It sure takes a lot of rough knocks and fall downs for a man to learn how to live and get along. And about the time you learn how to live and what is important in this old world, you are about ready to leave it and pass on to a higher plane of life as God has chosen for you. And each of us no matter how great or small leaves behind a part of our self in one form or another. I want to leave a good image of myself to all of my kids and grandchildren. I think I have or I hope I have."  - Joe Bruffy

My paternal grandfather, before he passed away in 1989, sent me an old, small book that my mother had given him. The book was a little series of short stories. He had written all over the white space in the book and he wanted me to have it.

The above words are on page 12, right before a short story entitled "Tennessee's Partner" by Bret Harte.

I have letters from my grandfather, too, that I have kept. Some of his stories I have shared here before, along with one of his poems. You can read them here, here, and here. Unfortunately, I have no digital pictures of him.

He served in World War II. That experience was one of two that defined him. The first was his birth, which killed his mother. Apparently he was blamed for that, and he never forgot it. There are traces of his pain about his orphaned upbringing throughout his letters.

But the war - that was something else again. My grandfather was a spitfire liberal, and he believed in things greater than himself. He loved his god and he loved his country, but he did not love greed. He saw the way the nation was turning and despaired to me in his letters. They were written in the 1980s.

The war taught him what happens when a country turns together, when it looks outward instead of inward, and how strong a society that gives to one another can be. He fought for his community and for his family, for good or ill.

When he wrote of the war, he often did it in the third person. He had a hard time personalizing his experiences. I think it was too painful.

In his stories, he talked about how it was during the war that his asthma began, how laying on the ground set off arthritis in his back, and how it felt when his friend died in his arms, his belly blown open by a German gun.

War is gruesome, nasty business. Death is never pretty. Today is a day to remember great sacrifices and debts unpaid. It is a lot more than the unofficial start of summer.

My grandfather's uniform, dog tags, and honorabilia.
Photo courtesy of my brother.

I asked my brother if he would like to contribute something about our grandfather to my blog for Memorial Day. I thought a different perspective might be interesting. This is what he sent me:

By Loren Bruffey, Jr.

My one regret in life is to have never participated in any branch of the Armed Forces.  Most of my family from my past served in some form. Growing up, my grandfather, Joseph Eugene Bruffy, instilled a deep respect in me for freedom. He was a WWII Vet. I got the privilege to spend my 15th summer with him in California. It was during those 60 days that I really came to understand what it meant to be an American. I also learned that freedom is never free. It always comes with a price.
My Grandfather was born June 10th, 1917 in Nettie, WV. He was raised by his Grandmother in hard times. The stories of his youth have always left me in tears, be it laughing or crying. He was a coal miner and an auto body repairman and finished his life as an automotive appraiser.

On August 28th, 1944, he was sent to fight in Rhineland, Central Europe. He spent time all over the war zones.  He was a lead Infantryman with Company K, 397th Infantry. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, European African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon and WWII Victory Ribbon.  He spent about 18 months or so in the war zones. He had no days lost even though he was wounded by some grenade shrapnel in a fire fight.
He would sit and tell me stories, good, bad and other, of his escapades in the war. He had two that always came up. The first was the time he was with a scouting party of 4 guys and they were ambushed. There were two foxholes and the team dove for cover. His three buddies in one hole, he alone in another.  A mortar shell dropped into the other hole killing all of his friends. In his hole was a large machine gun nest so he took up the weapon and opened fire. After killing many men, the rest surrendered. He was responsible for single-handedly capturing 24 Germans.

German swords my grandfather brought home from WWII.
Photo courtesy of my brother.
The second story tells of survival. Scurrying the countryside searching for food.  Stealing rabbits from local farmers and crops. One night his team had taken refuge in an abandoned church and a fire fight broke out. A grenade landed on the exterior wall of his hiding place and when it detonated, the interior wall crumbled away. Hidden inside the wall were jewels and money. Using his canteen, he placed all he could get into his canteen and sent it home. Some of the jewelry is still in the family.

During his talks, he always came back to the fact that most people really did not understand what it meant to be free, as they had never experienced what he saw in other countries. They did not experience the death and hatred he saw towards Americans while overseas. The crying children with no food.  The torture of anyone who stood their ground.  In his eyes Freedom is our God given right, but we always have to be ready to fight anyone who would try to tame this great country. So even though Free is in Freedom, there is always a price to be paid. Usually paid with the ultimate price . . . death.
Looking back now, at age 46, I fully understand what he was trying to say to me. Love your country. Appreciate what you have. Be glad for family. Help others before helping yourself. Be the better person. But above all, trust in God and trust in the USA!!!

"Every man and woman should take thirty minutes a day just to be alone with their self and enjoy the company of their own mind and thoughts, and to learn about themselves. For each one of us is our own best teacher. " - Joe Bruffy

1 comment:

  1. It looks like there's more than one writer in your family.
    I enjoyed your grandfather's margin notes. They are filled with wisdom. Your brother's retelling of your grandfather's experiences sum it up nicely- "Love your country".


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