This is Extra Inning Softball Executive Editor Brentt Eads… several years ago I took a break from softball and on-field coverage to write about Memorial Day and my appreciation for those who served in behalf of our country, including my father Jack Eads, and how it took my living in Europe to really appreciate the scope of what millions have done to protect our freedoms.
I was surprised and humbled at the response my few thoughts generated, especially by veterans who served in the military including those going all the back to World World II.
In tribute to all those great men and women, I’d like to republish and rededicate this column to them…
On this Memorial Day, we pause to take a few moments to remember and pay homage to those who’ve served our country, especially those we gave up their futures to protect ours.
My heritage includes ancestors who fought as far back as the Revolutionary War, but my greatest respect for veterans began with my first and greatest hero… my dad.
My appreciation for his military service, however, wasn’t fully realized until I lived in Europe for nearly two years and heard first-hand accounts of the horrors of war.
I wondered… did my father experience this? If so, he kept it to himself and my respect and appreciation for what he and all those who defend our nation go through was magnified.
For me, it started with my father, who served in the Korean War.
We didn’t talk about his experiences much—like many who’ve seen combat, he wouldn’t bring it up much. Sometimes as a young boy I would find photos of him in his Army fatigues over in Korea and see a photo that would demand questions, like him standing next to a skull stuck on a pole.
He said the Korean army put that there because it scared superstitious locals; I thought it was ghoulish and maybe that was why I didn’t ask too many questions.
I do remember my mom telling me stories of my dad jumping up in the middle of the night on their bed and running in place like a bat out of hell. He would be sleep dreaming and would be terrified, experiences from being in Korea where he was being shot at or under attack from mortar fire.
My mom would laugh it off and we would be amused picturing Dad running in place on the bed in his underwear, but I think my mom, me and my two brothers, Greg and Blaine, were all trying to not think too hard about what that must have been like.
Blaine wrote just this weekend with some details I didn't know.
"You know we’ll never know the things Dad had to do, the horrific things he saw and the hell that he went through," he began.
"I remember Mom told me how sick he was when he returned from Korea, parasites, and that he was very sick for a long time. I remember in the night, asleep, Dad would jump out of bed and hit the floor on his knees as if he was taking cover. He would fight, throw elbows with someone... he once pulled the curtains down from the windows and yelled for men that weren’t there.The things he endured we’ll never understand."
When he died almost 14 years aog, I was so proud that at his graveside burial he got a 21-gun salute and his coffin was wrapped in a United States flag.
When his casket was being lowered into the ground, I respectfully tossed in one of the used shell casings as a tribute to him and his military service.
I got to see first-hand some powerful stuff too.
In the 1980’s I lived in France, Belgium and Luxembourg for nearly two years as a church missionary.
I spent most of my time there in France and the first city I lived in was Calais, which is the closest city in France to England; in fact, on very clear days you can see the white cliffs of Dover.
This was near where the Normandy Invasion happened – think “Saving Private Ryan”—and the stories I heard were surreal.
— I remember a lady who said when she was a child she saw an American airplane shot out of the sky—the plane was shot in two and one of the U.S. airmen parachuted out, but as he was coming down part of the tail crashed into his chute and he was killed.
— An elderly lady told us how one day she got a knock on her door and when she opened it a Nazi soldier said they were taking over the house. She had “uninvited guests” for over nine months.
— On a positive note, I remember being in the city of Liege, Belgium and feeling immense pride at being an American as, at one point when I lived there, every street was lined with U.S. flags as far as you could see.
It was the 40th anniversary of the city being liberated by the American Soldiers and even four decades later the Belge remembered.
... And then there was Luxembourg.
Like New York, New York, the city of Luxembourg is the hub of the country of Luxembourg which is so small that you can drive 15 minutes east and be in Germany, 20 minutes south and be in France, head west for a ways and you’re in Belgium and drive north for an hour or so and you’re in Holland.
The whole country is probably smaller than the city of Los Angeles, but it is ripe with military history, especially World War II.
Locals would tell of seeing the American tanks roll through the city when it was freed by the U.S. Army led by a general named Patton.
Out in the countryside was a visitor’s center for one of the key battles fought in WWII, the Battle of the Bulge.
I remember seeing exhibits showing the white snowsuits worn by soldiers to be hidden in the backdrop of the snow. Imagine carrying a weapon, backpack and trudging through snow while trying to stay alive.
And I remember seeing a manual showing step by step how to silently come up from behind the enemy and slit his throat.
The lasting memory I’ll have from my experience over there, though, is seeing the white crosses for those killed in battle. The markers seemingly went on forever and it was a reverent, sad, but inspiring panorama. So many young men and women’s dreams dashed in defense of freedoms we take for granted every day.
I’m forever grateful for men like my father and those who we never got to know. I have distant uncles in my family tree who were killed in battle. I have ancestors that fought in wars as far back as the Civil War and even the American Revolution.
I am fortunate that I was in foreign lands trying to spread a message of peace and will forever be appreciative to those who tasted the hell of war and for their willingness to do so.
I came back to the United States after my time abroad even more proud of our country and our people, for our willingness to spill our blood for those in distant lands because we believe in the basic freedoms that all should have.
On this Memorial Day—and, really, every chance we get—we should reflect on how fortunate and blessed we all are because we’re standing on the shoulders of great Americans who went before us, many of whom went to strange lands as mere teenagers and never came back to the luxuries we take for granted.
Thanks, Dad, and the millions like you who endured nightmarish experiences so my family and I don’t have to.
— Brentt Eads