Dog Tags and Memories

“While you are here and your brothers are not, I want to give you something.”

Dad walked past me and down the hall to his office where I could hear him shuffling through things.  I heard him mutter something that seemed to translate into success in his search for whatever it was.  Then he came back into the room.

He stood across from me – the dining room table between us – and I could see he had something clenched in one of his hands.

“I was going through some things when I stumbled upon three of these.  Seeing them, I knew I was meant to give one to you and one to each of your brothers.  I have always felt him with me – watching me – guiding me – even after he passed.  Now, he will be doing the same for you.  I know he will be there for you – and protect you – this will remind you.”

As he was finishing his words, his voice was cracking – tears in his eyes.  Then he reached his out out towards me across the table.  I stretched my hand out to receive whatever this thing was – not having any idea what could have prompted this moment.

Into my hand, he dropped something on a chain.  As I moved to examine it, my dad continued…..

“This is Grandpa’s World War II dog tags.  I didn’t realize I still had them.  I don’t quite know what everything on there means because I haven’t bothered looking them up yet.  I made sure it had a chains.  He will watch over you because you have it.”

Then as is my dad’s way – he left the room.

A token of my grandfather’s protection was in my hand.  I smiled with a few of my own tears.  My grandpa was an amazing man.  I think about how many times he guided me when he was alive – and I realize in looking back how special of a relationship I had with this man.  A relationship not everyone had with their grandparents.  I still remember vividly being 16 years old walking to the hospital a few blocks from our house to visit him.  I had just concluded softball practice – and I was not ready to go inside the house, so figured I would go visit him since he was in the hospital.  He could tell the moment I walked into the room something was wrong but he didn’t ask.  I sat in the chair next to his bed and started with the usual pleasantries.  Finally in a pause, he said, “so what’s going on – I can tell something is on your mind.”  The dam I had constructed earlier to keep all of my feelings about practice and the softball season broke and the feelings came flowing out.  When I was done, I looked up at his face – and he simply asked, “are you having fun?”  No – I wasn’t having fun this season – the politics and shitty coaching had made it more stress than fun.  “That settles it,” he said decisively, “you quit.”  I was shocked – then launched into all of the reasons my dad would be upset with me – how he would never let it happen – let me not follow through on a commitment I had made.  Grandpa didn’t even let me finish the statement when he said, “I will handle your dad.  Nothing you do in life should cause you stress – cause you to hate something you love.  You need to walk away.  That is not quitting”  We talked some more, then his dinner arrived so I gave him a hug and left.  I quit a few days later.  He handled my dad.  And I found my love for the sport again – a sport I picked up a couple years later and played all through college.

A few years after his death, there were moments where I felt like he was with me – keeping me from harm by guiding me away from harm.  I have have too many moments while commuting on a freeway when I’ve felt the sudden need to slam on my breaks or something only to realize had I not, I would have been in a major accident.  There is nothing I had seen to indicate that was going to happen – just a weird feeling I needed to take this defensive step because something was going to happen.  Each time it has happened, I felt Grandpa with me.

Holding one of his dog tags in my hand – hearing my dad’s words and feelings about what it meant – just affirmed what I had already felt.  Grandpa is one of my guardians – my protector.  I had never told my dad before that I have had these moments or had these feelings.  This just brought it full circle, in a way.

Tonight, I sat down with Google and looked up what was on the dog tags.  I had some guesses as did my dad – but I wanted to know for sure.  I was sad to learn that had he gotten his a year earlier, it would have had his thumbprint on it.  That would have been neat to have.  But I found what the info on the tags meant or the format rather. It contained his full name, his military ID number, the branch he was in (US Navy Reserve), his religious preference which could have been Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or NO (Protestant), and his blood type (A).  The tags are roundish – and have 2 holes.  They are unlike any dog tags I am used to seeing.

This trip to surprise my mom has been filled with many military stories from my dad.  It’s funny for him to say names of guys he served with – and have pictures of them pop into my head.  These are people I haven’t thought about is 20+ years or more.  My dad has been going through old photos.  It’s sad that of the three kids, I’m the only one who will talk to him about this – ask questions, remember things that happened, etc.  He has been in a place where he is processing things from his past, I think — and my trip here gave him a chance to talk about them aloud.

What an interesting trip here.  I guess it was the right time to do it – for many reasons.

What do you think?