This weekend I was thinking about my grandfather, John Lerda, who served in the United States Army during World War II. He passed away four years ago but he’s had a major influence in my life. I consider him one of my heroes.
His family immigrated from Italy a few years before the Great Depression. They had nothing. His family of eleven lived in a small house on a chicken farm, where they worked to make ends meet. My grandfather was born in America. He was the eighth of nine children.
At sixteen, World War II began and my grandfather, like many of his friends, left high school, lied about their age, and joined the war. He was trained then sent to Europe where he fought in Africa, Italy, and went into France after D-Day. He was a part of the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge. In the end he was fortunate not to lose his life like so many others and made it out of the war physically unscathed except for some shrapnel from a grenade.
Though he never really talked about what happened. His usual one sentence observation of war was that it was the worst experience you could ever imagine. The only parts of the war he would talk about where some of the small victories you hear from veterans. One of his favorite stories was telling us about the time he, and his fellow soldiers, were starving because they ran out of rations somewhere in Europe when they stumbled upon a field of cabbage. He always insisted that eating those cabbages was the best meal of his entire life.
As I think about him now, it makes me realize how little I knew of the man before he became my grandpa. It’s a sad thing. I never served, because he begged me not to enlist after 9/11, so I’ll also never be able to understand war.
He’d always tell me that he grew in the best time because he started out with nothing and at the end of his life he experienced everything: He survived the Great Depression, survived a war, married the love of his life, started his own business, traveled all over the world, raised four children, and lived to see his grandchildren. Our two lives are drastically different. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to understand his life. The only thing I can do is appreciate, men like him, who have served and who made the decision to give their lives, regardless of if they ended up losing them or not, so that we could live in a place like America.