A friend once told me I had a smile that could light up New York City. My family refers to the grin as the Hunt smile. It’s big and toothy, and it’s full of joy. It was my grandfather’s smile too, but sadly, I only had occasion to see it once in a while.
The rare moments when I witnessed that grin, I hold tightly in my heart. How he smiled and laughed as we stained his deck together in the heat of the July sun. The joy on his face as we gathered as a family at Christmas and his grandchildren surrounded him. And I will never forget his joyous expression the first time he held his sweet great grandbabies in his arms.
I’m told grandpa flashed this smile constantly before the war. His sisters called him Sunny, a fitting nickname for a boy filled with joy. They said he had a kind word and a warm smile for everyone.
His smile faded after World War II. My grandfather was a World War II vet, and he lost his life in the war. I don’t mean he lost his life in the traditional sense. He was still very much alive when the newspapers proclaimed the war had ended. Grandpa came home, but without his trademark smile.
The war shattered the young man who fought for his country and left PTSD in its place. It is that PTSD that ended his life, stole his happiness, and erased his smile. The memories of the losses he experienced in the war filled his days and caused the screams of his terror-filled nights.
In that war, his young wife lost a husband, his children lost a father, and his grandchildren lost the grandfather he might have been. My great-grandparents raised my father because my grandfather could not.
I loved my grandfather and I know he loved me. His grandchildren were the light of his life. But he was also a lonely and sad man who never recovered from the horrors he witnessed. I mourn that my grandfather’s sadness overtook the joy he might have felt had things been different.
But I’m also reminded of my grandfather’s love for his country and his patriotism, and his gift to all of us. As John writes in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Today I ask everyone to remember that freedom is not free. Many men and women have sacrificed all for the freedoms we have in the United States. These freedoms are not to take for granted!
Thank you to all our veterans today and every day!