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When I see a military photo of my grandfather, I wonder why he volunteered for the draft. I see him looking directly into the camera, his head tilted slightly. A flag is flying behind him, and the only words you can read are “US Navy.”

Tata Abram enlisted in the army in 1943 at the age of 18. Most young men of that time and age enlisted in the army, perhaps thinking it was the right thing to do at a time when the world was fighting for the survival of good and the eradication of evil.

Today, eighty years after the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, there is still much injustice in the world, but also much good that is worth fighting for. Tata Abram was not one of the thousands who entered the Normandy operation. He served on another war front, on another, less deadly adventure. For that, I am grateful.

On this weekend of reflection, 27 years after his burial, Tata Abram’s ministry remains a mystery. Many grandfathers did not speak of their ministry. What they saw and did was almost too much to retell, to share with the people who meant a lot to them.

It must be hard to hold on to trauma. Not wanting to burden others with it. The greatest generation managed to see the worst in people and hold on to it. When they came back, they had to hold on to it. Settle back into the regularity of everyday life. Get married. Start a family. Wake up every day and work. Live a life of routine, not survival.

For some, it was too much. They didn’t survive the war for long. That’s understandable. Others coped with the situation, which made their lives hell. And others, like my Tata Abram, managed to reorient their lives towards others.

When we think of the freedom given to others at the cost of our own freedom, we forget that the price was higher than the numbers we read about in books and museum exhibits. A life lost is also a broken family. A broken family is a community hurt. When communities suffer, we all feel the pain.

Tata Abram gave few details about his own sacrifice during the war. He did not lose his life, but he must have left something behind. Scars and wounds we cannot see. An innocence and a beginning, formed and finished after enduring the battle.

We know our grandfathers only as old men. They are the kind of guys who move a little slower because they are at the end of a long marathon. We know them as a little weary, a little battle-hardened people. They appreciate us because what they did all those years ago helped us to be there for them and to appreciate us.

What we don’t know about them is who they were before they became men in faraway places and saw and did the things that make you a man, whether you’re ready for the change or not. We don’t know what would have become of them if they hadn’t enlisted. We don’t know if we are the people they were before they went to war.

I don’t know as much about Tata Abram as I would like to, but I know enough to know that he and others like him are heroes worth knowing about. They were selfless and brave. They were young and willing to take on the unimaginable. They were Americans.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people and culture of America. He can be reached at [email protected].

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