Memorial Day we remember the brave men — and now women — who’ve given their lives for our country. By that standard, Private Wojtek — neither a man nor a woman, and technically a private in the Polish army — does not qualify. (He was a bear.)
I never met Private Wojtek. But then again I never met my uncle Previn Landau, either. He was shot down over the Pacific in that same war a few years before I was born. I just came to know I had been named after him and that my mom had been devastated by the loss — her favorite big brother. She apparently cried so long . . . so frequently . . . so heart-breakingly, endlessly re-reading the letters Previn had written home . . . that my dad — who loved her as deeply as Westley loved Buttercup — couldn’t stand it anymore. He burned the letters.
I’m still trying to process that, even though I hadn’t been born at the time. (Was he afraid all that crying could complicate the pregnancy? Did I inherit the happy gene despite all that grief?)
By the time I became aware of any of this, and asked why my mom and her mom, whom we were visiting, wouldn’t come with us to see “The Bridge On The River Kwai,” or some other WWII movie of the time, the hushed tones in which none of this was discussed pretty much made the point.
So many losses. So much sacrifice. Such a debt we owe those who came before us — and such a responsibility to those who will follow.
And yet don’t we also have a responsibility to revel in our good fortune? To smile at the thought of the guys pouring beers and lighting smokes for Private Wojtek? (He probably died of lung cancer, so pour the Flower Power but skip the Marlboros.)
Have a great weekend!