The recent post I wrote for Seniors for Living about the Spirit of ’45 Campaign taught me this: knowing my family’s stories about their WWII experiences is such a powerful part of who they are, who I am, and what our world is like today. Maybe you don’t agree that they are the greatest generation, but you have to admit their influence on the generations which followed has been tremendously palpable.
In keeping with this theme, and in anticipation of Veterans Day (this coming Friday), here’s an excerpt from my piece, “Reconstructing Grandpa: The Story of a Norwegian Carpenter”, about my grandfather’s World War II story:
I opened the conversation with a very general question, “How did you begin your career as a carpenter?” Little did I know how the story would build from there.
My grandparents were born and raised in Norway. There, after graduation from grammar school, students chose an occupation of interest and would apply to work as an apprentice, shadowing someone who was already established in their chosen field. Learning a little bit of English was also part of the program. Grandpa chose carpentry. The program was supposed to last for a year, but six months into it, World War II interrupted. He had only built a large oak dining room table.
For two years during the war, Grandpa worked at a furniture factory in Farsund, Norway. He offered little information about this job, even looked away, lost in thought as I wrote down what he had told me so far. When he continued, there seemed a deeply buried anger in his voice: “We got in trouble with the [Gyerman] army, so I went back to school, this time in the mountains on the west coast of Norway. I [tink] the town was named Os, and it was right by the fjords. There, I learned about woodcarving.” Six months later, the war interrupted again. The Germans, who had occupied Norway, took my grandfather to their work camp, where he was imprisoned for seven months.
“They took me to the mountains of Alta, all the way up North,” he said, the pain of these memories glistening in his small, deep-set blue eyes. He looked straight at me, fixing me with his eyes but not stern in his gaze, “I don’t like to [tink] about that, you know.” I nodded silently. “You don’t need to hear all about [dat], do you?” He asked, somewhat uneasy. I shook my head; he sighed in relief.
“So many [tings] happened during the war I don’t like to [tink] about. [Dose] memories could [yust] be left behind,” he said. “But [dere] are many good memories in my life too,” he answered, smiling away the pain and shifting in his chair to find a more comfortable position for his back. I assured him that I only wanted to know about carpentry.
After the war, Grandpa returned south and enlisted in the Norwegian army, since finding a job was nearly impossible. After three months in boot camp, Grandpa had to decide whether to stay in the service or become a Merchant Marine. He chose to join the Merchant Marines. “I did [de] boot camp already, so now I wanted to see [de] world,” he said.
And see the world he did…eventually moving to Brooklyn, New York, and later to Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, where he built his family.
So what’s your family’s WWII story? If you don’t know it, find out today. And remember, it doesn’t have to be from the veteran’s point of view; everyone who lived through that period was impacted by the war.