History in Focus: Remembering the giants
September 11, 2018
Over the past three years, this column has focused on the stories of 30 men from Moffat County who served and died in World War II. These articles started as a project in researching and writing about local history but quickly turned into an intensely personal, emotional, and even spiritual experience. Believe it or not, there were moments I truly felt I had lived through this era. It was spooky, yet exhilarating. I never knew these men, but I grew close to them and felt the weight of telling their story to the best of my ability.
First, a very big thanks to Dan Davidson and staff at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Their passion for our local history and willingness to help with research is phenomenal. I also thank my children and wife for listening to rough drafts when I interrupted their homework and activities in the late evenings.
Before undertaking this project, I knew the big picture of key battles, statistics, some of the big names, and a bit about weaponry, etc. of World War II. I even considered deaths in World War II from a "historical" perspective and could blithely state the WWII generation saved us from evil totalitarianism, which is true, of course.
Very quickly, though, the lives of these men brought me as close as possible to feeling the tragedy that entered the homes and lives of families across Moffat County during the "Good War." The slaughter of impersonal industrial warfare created very unique individual suffering. The burning and searing emotions of that era became very alive in my thoughts as I researched and wrote these articles.
Some of my family members served during the World War II and Korean era. Fortunately, they all came home and were the giants who shaped my formative years. They were tough and kind, confronted me, and gave me no slack because of my youthful stupidity. They argued about fishing lures, unions, and college athletic scholarships. At the ripe, old age of 10, they taught me how to pour a beer without too much foam, which is very important in Wisconsin. Yet, through all their tough exterior, they cared and loved with passion and devotion. Those men are all gone now, and I miss them.
For the 30 men whose names are on the WWII Memorial, I thought about a son, daughter, nephew, or niece who never had a giant from the World War II generation in their life. I was sucked into the emotion of that era — the initial shock of a telegram delivered to the door, then the years and decades of an empty chair at every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinner. I learned "the last full measure of devotion" created gaping and unmeasurable emotional holes in these families. Textbook history quickly forgets these difficult and never-ending realities!
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Our men were gunned down, destroyed by flak over Europe, drowned in the Irrawaddy River, blown up by a panzer, plagued with malaria in a jungle, snuffed out by a kamikaze, and made to linger long and painfully in a Japanese POW camp; a few of their bodies were never recovered. This made me realize each and every death in this world is a completely unique, awesome, and fearsome experience. No matter who is around us when we die, each of us will take that last breath on our own and move into our hopes and beliefs of life beyond.
While learning about their lives and deaths, the men from Craig taught me to ponder my mortality and begin to ready for it, whenever it arrives — as we should, because it will happen.
So, while these 30 men didn't get to share life with the next generation, their ghostly influence did reach from the beyond and teach me, just like my now passed on father and uncles. So, I thank these giants of Moffat County for revealing to me a deeper meaning of reality, life, suffering, and death. I am more alive because of it.