Veterans Day: Share a Hero’s Tale

Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor all the people who have served in the U.S. Armed forces for their patriotism and willingness to serve and to sacrifice for the common good. As veterans risk their lives and leave their loved ones to protect our freedom, it is impossible for us to repay their sacrifice; however, we can give back and show our appreciation. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs provides volunteer opportunities and the option to donate to Veteran Affairs medical centers and hospitals throughout the year. Many restaurants and business are also offering free meals, car washes, haircuts, shopping discounts, and other deals to veterans today. Another way to give back is to share a veteran’s story and to provide the recognition that our heroes deserve.

My grandfather, JC Hawkins, voluntarily joined the Navy at 17 in 1942. He attended basic training in Chicago, Illinois, followed by more training in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was then shipped to the Pacific war zone where he served as a Navy medic with the Sixth Marine Division. He trained in Guadalcanal, the principal island in Guadalcanal Province of the nation of Solomon Islands. After training he fought on Okinawa Island of Japan, America’s final push before an invasion of mainland Japan that never took place as a result of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which prompted Japan’s surrender.

After the war, my grandfather returned to Okinawa to assist in the rebuilding of Japan. Upon his return to America, he re-enlisted this time in the Army and served at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. By now he had four sons with his first wife, Ron, Steve, Phil, and TR.

Promoted to Captain, he then served in the Korean War as an Army supply officer. At the end of the Korean War he returned to Fort Leonard Wood where he met my beloved grandmother, Barbara Hawkins. They married in 1956 and gave birth to their first daughter together, my Aunt Susan.

He then served in post-war Paris with a supply division for 3 years, keeping American troops supplied as they rebuilt Europe as part of the Marshall plan. In 1959, my grandparents gave birth to their second daughter together, my Aunt Sharon. They then returned to the States where my grandfather served at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. In 1962, my grandparents gave birth to their third daughter, my mother, Jacqueline. They bought a house in Staten Island and in 1964 their fourth daughter was born, my Aunt Joann.

My grandfather was soon offered a promotion to major that came with an assignment in Vietnam. However, he knew he had survived two wars and not wanting the risk, he retired. He pursued a career in sales and in 1972 they moved to Florida for two years before moving back to Missouri. He worked a number of jobs and then returned to Fort Leonard Wood as a Mess Hall Manager, where he fed thousands and thousands of troops as they underwent training.

My grandfather still lives in Missouri and goes by Joe—very fitting for a veteran: G.I. Joe! I love my grandfather very much and want to say a special thank you to him for selflessly serving our nation to protect our freedoms. I honor him today and everyday, as well as all the other brave men and women who have served our country! Happy Veterans Day to all!

Kayla Pantano