Friday, February 4, 2011

Treasures in a Trunk

        Part of the fun in researching a family's history is finding little bits, or maybe a lot, of the personality or character of an ancestor.  Though I knew my grandfather for 21 years, I never had a chance, or even an interest, to ask him about his World War I experiences.  I had read his memoirs as a young adult, and I thought I had a strong sense of who he was. However, I was unprepared for my reaction when I found  "pieces" of his experience in his 1918 Army trunk. There were many "momentos," from his time in France and  the Battle of Verdun. I will share them as I find them. Among them, lying there at the bottom of the trunk, was a helmet, battered and unlovely. I picked it up and studied it, trying to imagine my dignified elderly grandfather (Papa) wearing it, and more significantly needing it. 
     Very patriotic with - I believe - a strong sense of history, Papa was almost 40 years of age when The War to end all wars began. He had a growing family. He didn't have to serve, but he wanted to serve. Papa actively sought the opportunity to go to the front. Many items in the trunk speak to the power and the pain (he was gassed.) of his experience.  Among the pictures and clippings was a single piece of newsprint with a poem. The notation said it came from Yankee Doings, 1926. [Yankee Doings is a newsletter for the 26th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.] I felt a connection between that preserved helmet and the sentiment in the poem.   Why did he save this poem?   Something in it resonated with him, and, looking at his helmet, the poem reached me as well.  I share it here.