Throughout our nation’s history, scores of families have suffered the loss of a loved one who has laid down their life in military service. Yesterday, on Memorial Day 2012, hopefully, we each in our own way took time to stop and remember those sacrifices and to honor those brave souls.
I have been very fortunate in my own immediate family and in those members I have known throughout my life, not to have gone through the loss of a loved one who served in the U.S. military. But, before I was born, my Daddy’s family did suffer such a personal loss with the death of my Grandma’s brother, Harry.
Army Corporal Jackson Harry Anderson was only 25 when he died during WWII in Naples, Italy on Nov 18 1943 . I only knew Uncle Harry from a photograph For as long as I can remember, until the age of fifteen, when I moved from SC, my Grandma, Grace Hall, kept an old black and white photograph of him on the top shelf of the bookcase that sat by the door in the front room of her and Grandpop's little farmhouse
I remember that Uncle Harry was tall; I knew that because he had a really long neck which usually goes with the territory of being of great height. He was wearing a U.S. Army uniform and also one of the most enigmatic smiles I had ever seen. Not a wide grin, but not a halfway smirk either.
It was an ever so slight, but definitely pleasant closed mouth smile that hinted at a man who played things close to the vest, but who was optimistic and determined. I only have to close my eyes to see that photograph and to remember how much he and my late, much beloved grandmother resembled each other.
Grandma always told me how smart her younger brother was-she was the eldest of the Anderson children- and how proud she was of his decision to serve his country. As a young girl, I always thought I would have gotten along famously with my great-uncle Harry.
I never knew Uncle Harry, and never felt the true agony, the sorrow and loss that my Grandma, her siblings and my great grandparents, Molly and Tom Anderson, had to endure when the letter came from the adjutant general announcing his passing.
As a young girl visiting my grandparents, though, I would always stop in front of that old photograph of the young man with the bright eyes who stared down from the top shelf of the bookcase that sat by the door in the front room of the Hall farmhouse. The photograph was housed in one of those old-fashioned black plastic box frames with heavy concave glass covering the picture.
And I would always ponder how sad it was that some one so very young had never had a chance to truly live. It wasn't until I was a little older that I grew to appreciate that he had been doing a job he had volunteered for, and that he believed was the right thing to do for a country he loved.
What made me think on yesterday’s Memorial Day of that old photo and of long lost great uncle Harry? Well, I started thinking how the memory of those who have gone before us, though it never leaves us deep in our hearts, is often pushed from our conscious memory in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
When I moved away to NC after my parents' divorce, after the farm was sold and Grandma moved to a nursing home where she passed away at 93, I permanently lost track of the old photo of Harry Anderson that had been touched by me and studied by me every single time I passed it.
Though, through the changes in family and the passing of time, that photo has gone to goodness knows where, when folks start talking about a loved one lost to military service or when we celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day, my mind always goes first to the only one of my family’s members who died during a war
There is a piece of me that longs to see that old photo again, to be able to look my grandma's brother in the eye in the only way I am able and to say thank you for your service!
No, my great uncle Harry was not killed in action. He died after a long bout of typhoid fever, contracted while serving on assignment in Italy. No, he was not on the front lines in the middle of some great battle. He was a company clerk for an American engineering company whose job was to provide the pipelines that in turn provided the fuel for the tanks and mechanized vehicles of the likes of General George S. Patton, when he was in charge in Italy, before he was transferred by an irate Commander Dwight Eisenhower to the European theater.
Jackson Harry Anderson’s death from typhoid may not have been as symbolic of the horrors of war as if he had been hit by mortar or felled by a bullet, but his patriotic service to his country was as real as any soldier who perished on the battlefield and the sorrow felt by his family was as palpable as any felt by any other family.
The grief of Harry’s fiancée was as real as the beloved of any soldier who perished in battle. My Uncle Bruce was the one who drove into town and shared the letter from the government with her, one of the most popular teachers at the local high school.
Uncle Bruce mentioned in passing that there were rumors flying at the time of Harry’s death that the Axis forces had purposely polluted the waters around Naples with typhus but nothing was ever investigated or proven.
Though I never met him personally, growing up in the shadow of his memory and hearing about him from his sister, my grandma, who loved him dearly, Uncle Harry’s story was a monument to all of those who perished in service to their fellow countrymen. His monument was just smaller than most- it was in a black plastic frame box that sat on the bookcase by the door in the front room of my Grandma’s farmhouse.