All of us can learn something from the experiences brought back home from the brave veterans who answered America’s call and served. On this Memorial Day, I want to tell about one veteran from whom I learned some very valuable lessons.
Frank Benjamin Watters served in the United States Army in Europe during World War II. Mainly, Frank drove trucks, often filled with ammunition. He was awarded the Bronze Star (among other accolades).
Frank, like many veterans, was never eager to talk about his experiences. It made him uncomfortable to remember. So, for most of my time with him, I never heard about his service. That all changed when he finally told me about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Frank knew his memories would eventually fade (many had already) and he didn’t want his war experiences forgotten. The disease had forced him to tell his story and I am eternally thankful that he did.
Frank B. Watters, the man I called “Paw Paw”, was my grandfather. He was our family’s hero and he will never be forgotten.
Paw Paw tells of a mission he was asked to perform.
The mission required him to drive his truck into enemy territory, deliver the ammunition to troops at the front, and make his way back to the relative safety of his post. While making his way back (having delivered the goods with relative ease), he encountered an enemy force. Paw Paw decided to hide his truck and spend the night hidden. He chose to NOT sleep in the truck (which would have been more comfortable) opting instead for a hard,cold night on forest floor somewhere inside Germany.
He was awoken by the sounds of shots and ordinance being directed at his general position. Eventually, things got quiet and he knew that the immediate danger had passed.
For the next few days, Frank travelled slow and deliberately. Travelling small distances, checking for safety, hiding the truck, sleeping away from it, and then moving later. When he finally returned to his base, he noticed quite a bit of damage to the truck from bullets fired at his position during the journey. If he had slept in the truck, he would have been killed. He was also approached by his commanding officer who congratulated him on the mission. The way paw Paw told it, nobody back at the base expected him to return. The delivery in enemy territory was a “suicide mission” that was kept from him as to not cloud his judgment.
After the war, Paw Paw returned to Louisiana, married my grandmother (Ma Moo) Laverne, and worked various jobs before starting his own construction company. His company helped build many houses in the suburban areas in and around New Orleans. I grew up in one of those homes.
Paw Paw taught me many things, among them are the value of hard work, love of family, honor, duty, and resilience. But one of the most important lessons was demonstrated during his last years. In the face of a horrific disease, he never complained. I never herd him feel sorry for himself. He took each day as it presented itself and greeted me with a smile and a story. Even when he no longer recognized me, I saw much of what made him special to his family.
I remember him asking me once if I knew how to spot a well built house. Not having much knowledge of building codes, I said, “No.”
His response was, “A good house is still standing.”
Today, his memory still stands. I guess that says something about his the lessons I learned form him.
Thanks, Paw Paw.