My grandfather, Ray Inzer Belyeu, was a WWII veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, who hardly ever spoke about the war he fought in and barely survived. No one except those soldiers really knew what they endured physically and emotionally during the war. Yet, as a child, I watched my grandfather and even helped him dress his war wounds on his legs where a grenade had exploded killing his best friend in front of him and permanently injuring him for life. On that day my grandfather would lose more than just his best friend and the front of his shins that day; he would also lose the ability to father any other children than just my father, who thankfully he was conceived right before he went into the military. Sadly, I know my grandfather left part of his heart on that battlefield, a part of a World War that you and I will never see and a pain we will never understand for it cut deeper than just a flesh wound. It cut to the very soul where mere words could not describe the heartache he bore.
As the baby of the family and the only granddaughter, my Grandpa Ray loved to spoil me and let me get away with a lot on the farm. I grew up getting to raise the runt of the litter of piglets, or orphaned chicks or pups. I also got to bottle feed baby calves and loved going with my grandpa to feed. I also shared my birthday month (Dec. 30) with my grandpa (Dec. 27) so we had our birthday parties together until I turned 21. That would be the year I lost my grandpa and I lost the stories that only he knew so well.
However, after I lost my grandfather in 1990, it would be my grandmother Alice Eloise Belyeu, who opened up and shared with me pictures of a strappy young soldier she had married only one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She said that he had asked her if she wanted to wait until he returned home from the war to get married or if she wanted to drive to the next town and find the justice of the peace. Thankfully she chose the latter and their marriage was consummated before he was shipped out or my father (their only child) would have never been born and I wouldn’t be writing this today.
It was my grandmother who had told me of the severity of my grandfather’s injuries and that after the attack he had been taken to a foreign hospital where he would remain for almost four years. She had shown me the tiny piece of paper that stated “The doctor thinks I might live and is finally sewing me up today.” It had been over a month since my grandfather had been injured and brought into the hospital.
Then my grandmother showed me one of my favorite pictures to this day – a picture of her walking in front of dress stores in downtown San Antonio, Texas. She had boarded a Greyhound bus because the Army had finally gotten grandpa back to the states and he still needed to be in a hospital for another month. I still marvel at the strength of this little country girl from Oklahoma who was determined her farm boy would return home to her and though she hadn’t ever traveled alone she did so to be with her husband.
Amazingly another woman visiting her loved one in the hospital would hear about my grandparent’s story and would offer my grandmother a room in her home for the entire month. Again God would prove His faithfulness to our family in not just keeping us but providing for us in our time of need.
Now that both my grandparents are gone I try to recall their stories and I do my best to remember that the price of freedom was never free. It came with great loss -the loss of many lives, limbs and even dreams.
So may we never forget to tell our stories and tell our veterans “thank you” while we still can. Because of these men and women, America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave.