These socks, in the eyes of a child, were unique. I had never seen anything quite like them. My mother had bought them for her father as a birthday present and it was those socks that taught me a lot about the sacrifice of American soldiers.
My granddad was raised in what can only be described as a rural, backwoods setting. It was a society of shotguns and sermons, mules and moonshine, oil lamps and wood-burning stoves.
In 1913, the year my grandfather was born, another man halfway across the world was moving from one country to another. He had left the place of his birth to avoid military service after receiving an inheritance from an aunt who was dying.
Back home in the Tennessee hills, it soon was the late 1930s, and Granddad had fallen in love with a woman who was studying to be a nurse.
The job market was looking up. A government program called TVA was due to provide jobs and hope for the region’s residents.
During that same period, the other man across the sea had risen to be the leader of his adopted country. He was charismatic and his followers were zealous to his cause. That man’s cause became world domination and he was called “Fuhrer,” a word describing one exercising the power of a tyrant.
His name was Adolph Hitler, and he brought the world to war.
Americans were called into action to help their country’s European friends and the world stop this evil force. They went by sea and air, leaving behind their plows, their hunting rifles, their families and their way of life.
My grandfather was one of them.
The “Good War,” as it was called, was also a long war as many bombs and men fell defending freedom.
Granddad found himself in an outfit commanded by a guy called “Old Blood and Guts.”
The unit was officially called “The Third Army” and a man named George Patton was placed in charge. He led thousands of men, including my grandfather, in a dash across Europe to help liberate that embattled continent from Hitler’s evils.
I do not know the details of what my grandfather saw or experienced in that action. My grandmother told me when he came home after the war and departed the train, his first words to her were, “Never ask me what happened over there.”
He was fortunate to come home with head, arms and feet still attached. So many he served with were not so lucky.
Granddad never did discuss it, never boasted about it, and never reminisced of his service. Because of that, I have to depend upon history’s accounts of the Third Army’s exploits to get some idea of what my grandfather may have gone through.
It all comes back to those unusual socks that piqued my curiosity.
During those swings across Europe, the Third Army encountered horrible winters. Marching through the snow for days and nights, their boots very often would allow the moisture and the cold to reach between their toes.
Dampened socks amplified the rigidity of their winter surroundings. Frostbite was common and my grandfather was not immune.
It caused his feet to be sensitized to the colors used to dye socks.
That is why, for the rest of his life, the dress socks he wore were dyed with color from the ankle up and were cotton white around his feet.
His sacrifice was not as great as many of those with whom he fought or those in wars before and after, but thinking of those socks always reminds me of sacrifice and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
They led me to a greater curiosity of history and a greater appreciation for those who have served our country on foreign and dangerous soil.
For Memorial Day, most only think of those who gave their lives, but learning more about what those in war go through makes me believe there has never been anyone who serves in a uniform who has not sacrificed some part of their life.
Everything they lost is irreplaceable.
It could have been a thumb, an arm, a foot or a leg.
Maybe it was precious time with their loved ones, watching their children grow or being denied the chance to say goodbye to a loving parent or grandparent.
And, most importantly, there are the ones who lost it all.
We should be very proud of all of them and thankful they were willing to make those sacrifices, large and small, for their neighbors, their families and their country.
And, after knowing all I know now, I wish I could have told Granddad how really proud I am of him.
I can only hope the American flag I plant near his headstone each year will do.
And that’s what I think of when I remember my grandfather’s socks.