Thank you to all who have served our country. On this Veterans day, I want to share a deeply personal story about my family members and the sacrifices they made in World War II.
I hope we never forget the incredible sacrifice of brave men and women at Pearl Harbor. A lesser known fact is that 38 sets of brothers served together on the USS Arizona. Two of those men were my Great Uncles. The story of how one survived and the other died is almost unbelievable. Frankly, I’d have thought it little more than Family lore until I visited the USS Arizona Memorial.
Back in 1941, Stanley and Tony Czarnecki were stationed aboard the USS Arizona. Both Michigan boys were enjoying the first warm winter of their lives. Hawaii’s weather was beautiful, but Tony missed his new bride Dorothy. Having never seen grass in the Winter, Dorothy flew to Hawaii to visit her husband, quite an expense in the 1940s.
Stanley had been assigned shore leave the night of December 8th, which happened to be Dorothy’s last night in Hawaii. Stanley traded his leave to Tony so he could have one more night with his sweetheart. The next morning Imperial Japan dropped four 410-milimeter armor piercing bombs on USS Arizona. In all likelihood, Stanley had been killed instantly. …but that should have been Tony. Stanley was to have been on shore if not for a brotherly barter for a different night off.
Tony rushed to the harbor to lend a hand. Through a thick cloud of smoke, he saw his ship burning. Survivors on shore tell gut wrenching stories about how they couldn’t help shipmates; their Navy brothers. For Tony that feeling was all too real as he stood safely on shore. At some point, he realized traded his brother’s fate for his own. I can’t imagine the feeling and know he lived with the pain for the rest of his life. At the time, Tony sent a message home letting his parents know he was safe. I’m not sure if he could bear to tell them Stanley wasn’t.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the youngest son in the family lined up to join the war effort. Clarence, two years too young to join the military, lied about his age. Of course this was long before comprehensive background checks, and honestly, I’m not sure recruiters would have even cared. Two weeks later that boy was on his way to the Pacific where he experienced ship-to-ship combat. Fortunately, the only thing he lost was half his hearing. I never understood why I always had to yell at Grandpa until my Aunt explained he went deaf manning cannons and guns on destroyers.
I am honored to come from a family of such strong men. I could never have their courage, and it’s for that reason I owe them more than a simple debt of thanks. Unfortunately, I have nothing more to offer.
I hope this bit of history sticks in your memory and serves as a constant reminder many people have done far more for our country than most of us ever will. To to the active duty men and women who have done as much, if not more, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I may not be happy with the results of our last election, but I am overwhelmingly happy we have, and always will have free elections. Whether it’s a win or loss for your candidate, it’s a win for democracy, and that’s a win for everyone.
May peace be with all of us, here and abroad, and until it’s a reality. I hope we can approach conflicts with dignity, compassion, and most of all, respect.