Military memories: A grandfather and grandson shared a special service bond
As the Fourth of July approaches, may we all pause in moments to remember the military servicemen among us and those who have gone before us, dedicating time and lives to the freedom we continue to enjoy in our country.
In my family, we have a grandson and a grandfather, who shared the same birth date, also both served in the US Army, albeit under different circumstances and upon two different continents.
Both would die within a few months of the other, as well.
This is the story of my grandfather, Charles Vondracek, and his grandson, my brother, Jason Case.
A barber by profession, my grandfather served his country during World War II near the end of this conflict. According to military records found online, Charles enlisted in the Army on April 6, 1944 and discharged on January 26, 1945.
When he was yet alive, he told others, when the topic of World War II arose, that his barbering skills kept him from being shipped overseas. “The camp commander liked the way I cut hair, so he kept me there,” my grandfather typically responded, when questioned about his World War II experience. His brief military career was spent wholly at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri.
My brother served in the Army for two years, enlisting a year or so after his high school graduation in 1987. Jason completed basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was later assigned to what he told everyone was the smallest military base in Germany (at that time). Its name never registered with me, as I sent letters to him via an APO address in New York.
Jason, like my grandfather, never experienced combat. However, he served at a significant time in the history of the free world: the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989. He was fortunate to be able to visit that wall and brought home a small, graffitied chunk of it to my mother, who still displays this piece of history in her home.
My brother died on November 1, 1997, just three days shy of his 28th birthday, after failing to negotiate a curve and being ejected from his vehicle just east of Freedom, Oklahoma.
My grandfather was very troubled by the death of his grandson, with whom he had shared numerous birthdays over the years. He died of a heart attack less than three months later on January 20, 1998 at 87 years old.
My brother and grandfather never saw action or had to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their lives while in uniform, like so many have in conflicts and wars since America became a nation. Nevertheless, they sacrificed their time in behalf of the cause of freedom and democracy.
May God bless all of those soldiers who continue to serve on home soil or in faraway places, the many anonymous individuals stationed throughout the world who remain ever-ready to answer the call of duty, daily, giving back to the country which has given them so much.