Last week I had the privilege to talk to the World War II Prisoner of War Survivor's Group at the VA on Highland Drive (for our Pittsburgh readers). There were about 50 survivors and their family members gathered in a room at the VA dedicated to them and their comrades who are no longer with us. This was a very well established group who meets once a month for updates, to share time together and to hear a speaker. This month I was that honored individual- and the honor was all mine.
I am used to talking with people who know "a little something" about World War II. I am used to also talking with people who know very little- especially about my topic- POW monitoring or the use of short-wave radios to hear and share messages of our POWs. But, this group was entirely different for me. I only hoped I could keep their attention- after all, they know everything I was about to share with them. They are... my grandfather- the amazing man that I lost at the age of 11. They were the prisoners. The postcards and letters that radio listeners were writing were about them. I was merely one who stumbled upon my families letters two years ago and decided to write a book about it. This was fairly new to me. But, to them, this was history- a very personal part of their own history.
I've been around veterans long enough to know my role. I was there to share what I could with them, as a grand-daughter of a POW, about my book... but I was there first and foremost to thank them for their service- and thank their family members for their support of our nations veterans. Then, the most exciting part for me came... I was to listen. Listen to all that they wanted to share with me- the author.
These men were beyond kind to me in their attentiveness and appreciation for how lovingly I spoke of my hero- my grandfather. They cautioned me that as I read letters from him to and from family members, namely his girlfriend (my grandmother-to-be), that I be aware that letters were censored. I shouldn't just read what was on the paper, but between the lines. I should know that alot couldn't be said that was desperate to be. Also, I couldn't believe that all was well even if my grandfather said it was. After all, if the Germans didn't like what you wrote it was thrown away before it could ever be mailed.
The former prisoners also were interested. Where was my grandfather's prison camp? Which Stalag? They gave me a few leads as to where I could post information to find anyone who might have known him. They were part historian and part detective. They were what makes our veterans so special.
I am honored to have been a small part of their gathering. I am honored that I was able to say thank you.