Can I be real for a minute? I mean like, really real? I just need to take this moment in cyber space to stop time and purge all the thoughts that were rolling around in my head this morning. I practically wrote this thing already on the way to work. That’s kind of how the love/hate relationship of “inspiration” and I roll. It’s not like texting and driving or anything, so don’t freak out on me. It’s just there. On the tip of the tongue. So, here we go.
The last time I checked this was December, right? I remember throwing out in to the blogosphere way back in October that OCTOBER was my “feel crazy” time of year. I had some good hits off of that one and a lot of site traffic. So much so that I just reposted my 2015 words instead of writing a new one for 2016. I mean, why not? But, here we are. And it’s December. And I’m chasing my tail again. So for all of you moms out there who have yet to even sit down and online order your kids’ Christmas via Amazon Prime – and probably won’t until well into late next week –well, this one is for you.

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Does anyone out there remember being a child and sitting at the foot of someone you thought was really wise?  You listened to them tell you a story and your eyes were just wide open with wonder.  I hope you have a memory like that.  For me, it’s the embodiment of my first encounter with wisdom.  That feeling of being awe-struck by someone older and more experienced in the world around us.  Probably it would have been someone you knew well and were very comfortable with.  And it wasn’t just the big eyes, but the full head tilt upward. Because, childhood.. and I’ve never been very tall.  That whole “whoa” experience.

Anyway, I wish I could take those type of feelings and humanize them.  In a sense, what if we could take the undergird of THAT story, THAT lesson, that whatever you remembered and make it a person?  The famous line by E.O. Wilson has recently surfaced on a lot of memes.  You may have seen it.  “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.”  I think I’ve posted it a time or two myself.  I don’t think this has ever been more true.  Not that information isn’t necessary.  But wisdom – come on!  Wisdom is what holds together the threads of the universe.  Am I right?  Would you rather be book smart or wise?

So, if wisdom could talk to all of us at this very pivotal point in current history – I think it would have some advice for all of us.  Maybe something along the following lines.

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Downtown Brazil in the 40s

When I was little, I remember sitting at the dinner table many an evening with my grandparents.  Yes, here she goes again talking about her grandparents.  No apologies here.  It’s the nature of storytelling, isn’t it?  To go back to what grounds us.

 

Anyway, dinner time always had a rhythm.  Grandma cooked, we ate and watched the evening news, Grandpa and Julie washed and dried the dishes.  This was routine.  Steady.  The norm. My scope, however, narrows today to just the middle part of that: the timing of what we did and when the news was on those many moons ago.  My grandparents, like most folks, watched it every evening at the same time.  And there’s something calming about steady consistency.  You could always count on the television being on for the evening news and an extra long morning in the recliner reading that thick Sunday paper.

 

I’m here to publicly mourn the loss of this rhythm.  We now have news media details shoved down our throats faster than we can suck air into our lungs.  It’s everywhere.  And we have somehow allowed ourselves to become the new-age version of Pavlov’s Dog.  DING!!! A notification! Automatically our brain gets its rewards and we essentially have shouted “SQUIRREL!!”   I am as guilty as the next guy.

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There’s a low rumbling in America today.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably noticed.  Kind of like the undertones of thunder just before a big storm.  We are hearing and seeing the disgruntled thoughts of many people.  From the election drama to the Black Lives Matter movement to the way we are handling the crisis in the Aleppo and beyond.  To be blunt, people are pissed.  Some of you may think we are already amidst the storm, but I really don’t think so.  I don’t make light of the anger or the demonstrations, peaceful or otherwise, currently clogging all of our newsfeeds.  But, for lack of better terms, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

You see, we are all caught up in a thought trap today.  Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we have established for ourselves a parameter of mindset that we will be darned to remove ourselves from. “This is how it is!”   Am I right?  Many of us blatantly refuse to consider stepping aboard any other thought trains.

 

So, this raises a question for me – Why?   Why must our opinions remain steadfast?  Why does it have to be one way or another?  This or that.  Black or white.  Furthermore, who decided that progressives and conservatives should start throwing the playbook at one another?  These are precarious times.  We currently have people who want to transform society and others who want to bring back the older more traditional ways.   Welcome to the thought trap.   What to choose?  That is the question.

 

I see value in both sides of the argument, don’t you? There’s something really special about upholding and continuing traditions that built up and held together one of the world’s greatest superpowers.  However, there is also something thought provoking about the word “change”.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but even the noblest of ideas started out as a prototype and had to go through tweaks and upgrades.  Of course we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  But at the same time, as a country we cannot stay the same as the world changes around us.  At an alarming pace, too, I might add.

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Failure.  We so often associate this word with a sense of impending doom.  Like if you failed to reach that one goal you set for yourself, then you must really suck at life.  Been there.  And then once it happens – once you’ve made that proverbial faceplant – your first reaction is to peace out of the whole venture, right?  Who wants to feel like a ‘has been’?  Or like the “fat guy” forever stuck in Chris Farley’s little coat?

I can assure you, that kiddie pool of self-pity you may be wading in is large enough for all of us.  So move over and let me share a little nonsensical wisdom.  Here are 5 surefire ways to know that you aren’t actually failing at life:

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***This story was also published for Elite Daily magazine.  You can find it and all of my other published articles at http://elitedaily.com/users/jwheaton/  ***

I took my kids to the county fair today and came across the coolest critter.  This is Bob.  Everyone in unison, let’s all say “Hi, Bob!”  Bob is a tortoise, as the sign behind him suggests.  Isn’t he cool?!  Normally the petting zoo area of the county fair is for the kids.  However, I prefer to think of it as an opportunity for anyone to get up close and personal with God’s creatures.  That is… if you dare to remain young at heart.  And no, I am not about to launch into an argument with anyone on the humanity of keeping a tortoise in captivity.  I’m just not.

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**This story has been previously published for Elite Daily magazine under the title “What Millennials Need to Know About the Greatest Generation on Memorial Day” This is the same story, but with original photos.**

 

“I received a letter from the Clay County Draft Board in September of 1941, explaining that my friends and neighbors had decided it was my time to be drafted.”

These are the opening lines to my grandfather’s memoirs. I’ve looked for this document for over a decade, and I have had those first few lines memorized and rolling around in my head since I was 16. He gave me his accounts of World War II to rewrite at much too young of an age. My sentiments then are much the same as they are now: I am unworthy of such a task. Just like a teenager, I lost them years ago, but I found them about a month ago.

The totality of the above statement is heavy. My grandfather was barely 22 years old at the time. I remember being 22. That’s not adulthood. That was like the peak of my glory days. Having fun is at the top of most of our lists at age 22, not war.

Can you imagine? “Here’s your paperwork, son. You don’t have a choice. Go to war and try to stay alive.”

I am on the fence about a lot current issues, mainly because I see a million shades of gray to every current political issue. However, this is not one of them. As a whole, young people of that era possessed a grit that we have somehow lost.

Memorial Day will soon be upon us. Due to the stories I grew up hearing about brotherhood, and the homage my soul owes to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this great country, this article is for them.

Before my grandfather, there was another. My grandmother was engaged to marry a young man named Earl. Earl was from her hometown and a well-versed English teacher. They had grand plans to be married and start a life together once he returned home from the war. His penmanship was beautiful, his grammar was perfect,and his wit was amazing. I can surmise all of this by the letters left behind in my possession. He was the love of my grandmother’s life, and I’ve heard about him my entire life.

 

 

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Last photo of Earl Krampe. Age 28.

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My grandmother and Earl

Earl worked his way to the rank of Lieutenant and served in the opposite theater as my grandfather, the European side. He wrote many letters, but the last one is somewhat haunting.

Here is an excerpt of honest thoughts from March 8, 1945 in Paris:

I had an interesting conversation with a Frenchman on a train this morning. I’ve heard rumors that the French people resented the fact that we weren’t supplying them with enough things. Then when you hear of all the provisions, supplies, etc. stolen from the Army and sold over the black market, you wonder what the hell we liberated them for, especially when you’ve seen men die in doing it. But that’s enough of that. If I were sure I would get through it all safely I wouldn’t take anything for being in combat, but it’s the uncertainty about it all that gets one.

Lt. Earl Krampe was killed 17 days later in Germany. He had taken 45 of his men to a basement bunker for safety during a combat mission. A single bomb killed them all. This is one of his two Purple Hearts, which is little solace for my grandmother’s broken one.

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Graduation photo from Indiana State University. Age 22.

 

Here’s something else we currently seem to be losing: resilience. The Greatest Generation was resilient. Even 50 years after his death, I remember the tears when she talked about him when I was a child. And I remember how considerate my grandfather was of her feelings.

They met several years after the war had ended. She never got over Earl’s death, but she was able to get past it. My grandpa honored his memory by inviting his family to all of their holidays and family events. You see, Earl was an only child. His parents were lost and heartbroken.

My own mother has memories of Earl’s family’s presence at most all of their family gatherings. This is resilience and love in its purest form. This is my grandfather not forgetting his fellow fallen, even the one who had his wife’s heart first.

 

As an American, I want our heavily split country to not only go back to that era of grit and resilience, but to the kindness and compassion we once had. One of the biggest things I can’t seem to grasp is how quick we are to cast judgement, sling mud and shout demands in today’s society. Where on earth is the compromise that made this country great?

A major lack of communication and willingness to listen to each other causing this great divide in our nation, which is fueled by anger and hurt feelings. We cannot fix the present by putting Band-Aids on issues and yelling curses toward something or someone we don’t agree with. This crazy train is going to derail if we’re all not careful.

We can’t change history. We can only learn from it, accept our imperfections and take action from there. Aristotle said,

It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.

I think I’m so passionate about the Greatest Generation because of all that I’ve learned from it.

From The Great Depression to a war many boys never wanted to be a part of, they never gave up. They rebuilt America, and they learned to accept everything life had to give with a deep understanding of the important things.

People need to know this. This was the message of my upbringing. It may not be the original roots of this great country, but if you ask me, it’s definitely our backbone.

Memorial Day is one Americans should be proud of. The men and women who have fought so hard to preserve our freedoms deserve so much more than just a day. They deserve to be remembered with utmost respect. They deserve our promise that we haven’t forgotten the triumphs and tragedies of this great nation. It is within those highs and lows in life that we become who we are.

My grandfather clipped this poem in 1996 from the Brazil Times. At age 77, he was still proud of his service to the Army and all the men and women who serve. It’s only appropriate to end with this:

 

Perhaps you don’t agree with all I have to say, but my hope is that you can, at very least, entertain the thought.
Happy Memorial Day.

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My grandfather on the right at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. His story has been a long time in the making and will have to wait for another day.