My dad the WWII Veteran is 92, and his cognitive abilities are slipping rapidly. Recently my brother Chris and I went through some boxes of his old stuff, and it was a treasure trove of keepsakes and memories of times Pop is no longer able to recall.

Dog tags, army pins, military scrip and more – these boxes were treasure troves of memories.

With some laughs and some tears we unearthed all kinds of interesting things he had kept safe throughout the years, and it reminded us of what a wonderful and interesting life he led before we were born. He even saved his high school valedictorian speech.

Pop was no slouch –
high school valedictorian and quarterback of the football team

Of course we knew he had been in the Army during World War II, stationed in Okinawa and then the Philippines. But there was so much we did not know until pouring through all his keepsakes. A proud and quiet man, Pop saw a lot of life (and death) during the war that changed him. We never knew his stories of that time until placing the pieces together now.

Even before he shipped off to WWII, Pop looked ready to take on the world.

This is why we save important stuff – not so much to jog our own memories, but to allow those memories to be shared by others later on. Stuff tells stories, and without becoming packrats, a few important things saved can make a big impact.

Some new learnings gleaned from Pop’s boxes of stuff:

  • Pop fought in the ugly trenches of ground warfare in Okinawa, before contracting Yellow Fever from the field doctor’s dirty shared needle while being inoculated for something else (I guess in the ’40s they didn’t yet fully understand the whole needle-sharing-is-bad mantra).
  • There were some pretty fun times too, like the time he dressed like a local island girl with a coconut bra and sarong (I will spare you the embarrassing photo).
  • Somehow through all this, he brought back an antique tea set from Okinawa that I now have in my bookshelf.
  • He was a good saver even then, and came home with a bunch of Army-issued currency from Japan and the Philippines.
  • His military eyeglasses are remarkably back in style today.
  • He was brave despite incredible circumstances, dodging snipers from his vantage point within ancestral burial caves (some of his friends didn’t fare as well).
  • He wrote sweet and hopeful letters home to my grandmother, which she saved and passed back to him when she died many years later.
  • Amazingly, Pop and his three brothers all went to fight in WWII, and all came home uninjured – at least on the outside

Interestingly, Pop NEVER wanted to talk about it. When we asked questions as kids, he always dodged us and gave just top line answers, enough to give us something but never deeper. It was enormously hard for him to talk about what he had seen and done.

Somehow uncovering these keepsakes helps us feel a little closer to Pop, even as he remembers less and less. I’m not sure I could have been any more proud of my dad, but this definitely raised the bar.

Home from war, safe and sound(ish)