Debt


Crew of Nemo

I am bankrupt.

I can never repay the debt.

What these men — and women — sacrificed is beyond my ability to restore to them. Indeed, it is without any doubt beyond my ability to comprehend what they gave up, what they lost, what was taken from them, and what they gave.

My wife’s father is lower-left in this picture. He manned a waist gun in “Nemo”, a bomber in the European Theatre during World War II.

Cotton, as he was called for his blond hair and complexion, gave up his young life. It could have been high above Germany. It could have been during a hopeless landing attempt at some English-countryside field. Or it could have been in a shelter during a bomb attack at his airfield.

Perhaps it is ironic that it was actually a diving accident while on leave back in the States.

But, does it matter?

Cotton was there at the lake trying to live in a few small days the joy and freedom he’d lost in so many ways. Temporarily returned for a brief release to the sane world of automobiles, Sunday school, weekends and, in comparison, a carefree life, we can only imagine the reckless, desperate release he felt, and that he tried to live.

Cotton’s life was sacrificed for us. It doesn’t matter whether it was at 15,000 feet over Germany struck by a piece of shrapnel or because he struck an underwater stump when diving a mere five feet into a lake.

So I try to remember on this Memorial Day those whose lives were lost as a direct consequence of the many wars, “police actions,” or simply from manning the lines, and not just from enemy-inflicted physical injuries, but also from “shell shock” or from the escape from what they endured into alcohol, or from the decades of life spent in wheel chairs, veteran’s hospitals, or in a back bedroom supported by a family who struggled to fulfill their needs, or whose future days hold little more hope than for a cardboard bed beneath some underpass.

Their lives, not just those of the dead, were sacrificed for us.

They gave up their futures, their chances for lives like those we now live but for which we, by comparison, have practically no basis for appreciating.

In my ancestry and in my wife’s ancestry are those who obeyed the call, and who lost their lives in degrees from partial, to devestating, to complete.


Citizens of the United States of America

Adriana, Gosia, presiding Judge

My daughter-in-law recently became a US citizen. Her father and I are the grandfathers of Adriana seen in this picture.

Mietek came to this country, alone, a couple of decades ago from Poland, exiled for standing up to the Communists. And only after many more years had passed — after the fall of Communism — were his wife and daughter able to follow, to come to this country.

Here, his daughter met and eventually married my son and, through them, our lives are now joined in this grandchild and in our citizenship. And I am honored to be a part of their family, a family that knows other circumstances but chose this country for their home, this country for their future, and this country for the future of our grandchild.

Mietek and I are amazed whenever we hear our grandaughter effortlessly switch between Polish and English, sometimes in mid-sentence, as her attention shifts between us. Adriana does this because she knows we understand best in two different languages. But it is also true that he and I bear similar unpayable debts to those who fought, sacrificed and died so we can enjoy this day, this family, this life and, most preciously, these freedoms.

Our debt is so profound, so far beyond the words “Thank you,” that I can only …

[Silence.]

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