Seventeen years ago, Jim Foster, my grandfather, died just a matter of days before Memorial Day. He was a Navy veteran, and his years of service during the Korean War had a big impact on his life. The camaraderie and sense of belonging he experienced in the Navy impacted him in meaningful ways. But the losses he witnessed and experienced personally caused pain in the years that followed.
We loved him, and I want to honor his life today.
When I remember my grandfather and think upon his life, I also ponder the life of a man neither he nor I ever knew. That man was my great-grandfather, Kay Foster.
Kay Foster was a veteran of World War I, and though I can only conjecture his story, I wonder if the losses of that painful war were a part of his early death. Whatever the story, it’s clear that his death sent a shock wave throughout our family. That was especially true for my Grandpa Jim and his siblings.
Kay Foster died of alcohol poisoning during the Prohibition era when alcohol was hard to find. He drank unsafe forms alcohol – basically, whatever he could get his hands on. He died quite early, right before my Grandpa Jim was born and while his four other children were still young. I wonder if he was trying to bury the pain of that war. . . I will never know.
In addition to losing his father before he was born, my Grandpa’s birthday was just nine days before the 1929 Stock Market Crash. In the midst of these crises, all five of the children were sent to live in an orphanage. Of his siblings, Grandpa Jim lived there the longest until age seven when he was finally able to return to his mother. When he returned, he and his family continued to struggle through the poverty that was part of the Depression. He endured so much.
Grandpa Jim carried these painful memories, and they must have weighed heavily on him. At times, he lashed out at people he loved. He did a lot of damage in these moments.
But later in his life, he tried to live differently. My personal memories are of a grandfather who was so playful and silly, and I’m glad I knew that side of him.
Grandpa Jim was particularly known for being quite loyal to his friends. I imagine that this loyalty was also an extension of his experience in the Navy. It likely gave him a sense of belonging he never had when he was a child and teenager.
Today, in light of these stories, I recognize the gifts and pains of national service.
Many families carry similar stories.
Today, we honor the deep sacrifices that our Veterans have made.
Today, we pray for all people around the world who have known the traumatic impact of war and the generations that have been affected by their family’s service.
We pray for every kind of peace.
Peace to you today and always, Grandpa Jim.