When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and launched World War Two, my mother was 16 and my father 20. In the aftermath of that terrible day, Poland was seemingly vanquished - its President in exile in London, 8000 of its best officers shot in the head in the Katyn Forest, and the Nazi army blitzkreiging across the country.
But to thousands of Polish youth this was only the beginning. With the exuberance, spirit, and hope that guided them, they went to work and became the "Polish Underground Army." Underground because Poland was now under Germany's rule and there was no "army" to speak of. Underground as in living in abandoned buildings, traveling through sewers, and eventually eating rats, cats, and whatever.
My mother, an only child, left home at 16, returning only sporadically when it was safe enough to visit her mother. Her father was fighting the enemy in England. She never lived at home with her parents again.
She spent the war years, as a "messenger" - running through the streets of Warsaw to deliver communications to another cell in a distant part of the city. My father was an officer and helped run supply lines and arms.
My mother spent the rest of her life reliving those awful days - she could not rid herself of the memories. One memory of a girl walking upright into a room where a sniper was positioned - a room where everyone knew you only crawled into. She was hit in the forehead when a bullet entered the small slit in the wall and died instantly.
The morning that they all woke up to great excitement - a Nazi tank had been abandoned just a block away! Everyone ran to claim it. Not my mother - she was canoodling with the radioman down in the basement and had amour on her mind. Then a tremendous explosion and the dreadful awakening that the tank had been booby-trapped. Twenty of my mother's friends died in that blast.
My mother spent the rest of her life recounting those terrifying days to anyone who would listen. My father stayed silent - except for one story of when his left leg was saved from amputation by a new wonder drug called antibiotics.
They did not give up and fought until the bitter end - the heroic final fight of the Polish Underground Uprising occurred in 1943 and resulted in much more death and destruction to the beautiful old city. My parents were captured and sent to Germany as prisoners of war where they stayed for nine months until their camp was liberated.
After liberation they met, married, and eventually moved to London. Five years later they moved to America and became American citizens. My father went back to college to finish earning his Engineering degree, my mother became a mother and homemaker.
And while they were not American veterans, they were Allies and did indeed intensely fight American's enemy. My father never saw Poland again (until my mother carried his ashes there) and my mother returned several times, despairing that her beloved country was now in the grips of Soviet communism. She was giddy with glee when Lech Walesa and the Pope cleared them out.
On this Veterans I wish that all deceased veterans of our country, and those who fought with our country, rest in peace. May all living veterans know how deeply we owe them our debt. Wherever you fought.
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