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Remember and honor our veterans, a disappearing breed

Bert Copsey, my dad's dad, is shown here in Lahore, India (now Pakistan) during his service in World War II. This photo was part of a postcard he sent my grandmother back in England. The reverse says simply, "Lots of love, Bert." (click for larger version)
May 20, 2014
This year, Memorial Day is May 26. It's a time to remember those who served in battle and lost their lives in service to our country. These soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines protected our country from opposing forces and gave their lives to preserve the freedoms Americans enjoy today.

While Memorial Day is a chance for us to remember and give thanks for the sacrifices made by fallen members of our armed forces, it is also a good time to honor those veterans who are still with us. But that honor should not simply stop at saying "thank you." Instead, take the time to sit down and speak with these old soldiers of their service, lives and stories. I guarantee it will be enthralling. These soldiers are quickly dwindling in numbers, especially for World War II. Take an hour or two and sit down with grandpa and listen – really listen – to what he has to say.

I am at a disadvantage when it comes to hearing war stories. Those of you who know me or follow my columns know that my family is almost entirely English and almost entirely still there in England. I never grew up with gramps just a short drive away – I was lucky to see relatives more than once every five years or so.

Add to this that I never knew my grandfathers who served in the Second World War. My father's father died when I was very young and my mother's biological father died before I was born. (Her stepfather, the only granddad I knew, died when I was too young to ask him anything.)

So everything I know of my grandfathers' service in the war is secondhand and sketchy at best. It comes from my parents and is difficult to pry out. As my father said, "Nobody ever talked about the war."

I can somewhat understand this. Both his father – Albert "Bert" Copsey – and my mother's dad, Hayden Harvey, served in India and Burma, where some of the hardest battles took place.

Bert was in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was not a pilot; instead, he was a member of the ground crew. He was stationed in Lahore, India (now Pakistan), and South Africa. He was one of the "Brylcreem Boys," a nickname for the RAF servicemen who used copious amounts of hair gel, as was the fashion. He had malaria at some point and fought in Burma (now Myanmar) against the Japanese.

I know even less about Hayden. My mother's father died when she was a young teen, so I never knew him and she was too young to really care about his service. He was stationed in Aden Colony, now part of Yemen, also as a member of the RAF. That's about all I know.

Her stepfather, Michael, did not serve. He was a coal miner and was exempt from military service.

Over the years, I have had the chance to interview and speak with many veterans of many wars. They all have stories to tell that Hollywood could never match. I wish I could have taken an hour or so with my family to learn more about them, but that time has long since passed. For those readers lucky enough to have surviving family members, be sure to learn from them and maybe even record their stories.

This Memorial Day, please remember those soldiers who never made it home to hear the thanks of a grateful nation.

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Editor, Milton Herald
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  1. report print email
    May 22, 2014 | 01:15 PM

    You're right, the number of WWII veterans is dwindling and we should honor them in every way possible. But we too often forget that our nation is at war today. There is an ever-increasing number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and there are families mourning very recent losses of sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and parents. Please remember and honor them on this Memorial Day.

    Johns Creek
  2. report print email
    May 22, 2014 | 05:41 PM

    Lovely article, Jonathan. I hope many will take a moment to read it.

    Sue Gray
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