My grandparents met in the 7th grade. Granddad was the tall, handsome son of a barber and a housewife. Grandmom was the fashionable daughter of a mechanic and seamstress. He played saxophone and she was on the dance team. By the time they graduated from Oak Cliff high school in Dallas, Granddad traded his saxophone for a ring and they were engaged.
College was next, but not for long. After a year, Granddad joined the Army and was off to Philadelphia for OCS. But he never made it through, sent off to Europe as a sergeant in the Army's 84th infantry (also known as The Rail Splitters).
Taking a job at the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Dallas, Grandmom lived at home to help the family and save up for the wedding she desperately hoped would take place. She often wrote letters to my grandfather and excitedly received them in return, despite the various phrases marked through or cut out by Army Intelligence. When Christmas time came she put together a package to send. In addition to the sweets and photos, she decided to throw in a silver-plated pocket Bible at the last minute.
That winter, my grandfather was crossing a field under heavy fire. He made it across only to look back and discover that several troops had been hit. After returning with one wounded soldier, he urged his Lieutenant to order everyone else do the same. In a clear state of panic, the commanding officer refused to go back. So my grandfather made the order and led the charge to bring the rest of the wounded men to safety. He earned a Silver Star and the rank of Second Lieutenant that day. He would soon earn a Purple Heart as well.
On April 13, 1945, the Rail Splitters arrived at a crossroads where they came upon a German tank and infantry. Firing began immediately, and Granddad caught a piece of shrapnel squarely over his right breast pocket. It was a fatal hit, or should have been. But that last-minute gift had found its way to his breast pocket. The Bible deflected the shrapnel from his heart, into his shoulder.
When my grandmother arrived at the military hospital in Utah, she was given my Granddad's things. The Bible was there with the top corner of the cover and every single page sheared off. After an operation to remove his arm above the elbow, several blood transfusions and a serious bout with jaundice, my Granddad was healthy enough to fly to Dallas and marry my grandmother.
Words cannot describe what it felt like the first time I ran my fingers over the edge of the tiny book that saved my Grandfather's life and ensured mine. I proudly displayed the Bible at my wedding. While it was a poor substitute for my Granddad who passed away five years before, it was and still is a symbol to me that there are heroes in battle, there are heroes at home, and, more often than not, they need each other to survive.
My grandparents were married for 57 years, had two children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
Happy Veterans Day.