Typography

On Veterans Day, most Americans who did not serve in the military reflect on our friends, loved ones and colleagues who did serve in the U.S. armed forces.

For me, the iconic veteran will always be my grandfather, Frank “Buster” Redfield.


Many veterans, especially those who served in World War II, are quiet about their military service for scores of reasons.

My grandfather was by nature a quiet man, I think in part because my grandmother did all the talking for them both and he loved the sound of her voice.

His quiet stoicism was terrifying to me as a boy because he only spoke when necessary and always with a weight of words that demanded attention. I am still convinced eastern Montana is so perfectly flat in fear of him.

But when asked about his military service, he was always told us grandkids a story. I think my grandfather was open about his military service in part because of its direct relevance to his career after the war. Primarily a wheat farmer near Opheim, Mont., he also built kit airplanes and ran a crop-dusting business. Our family farm still has a hanger and airstrip from which he flew small aircraft well into his 70s, taking his kids and grandkids on trips across the state or just above the farm when we insisted on a flight with Papa.

Buster joined the U.S. Navy at 17 shortly after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and served as an airplane mechanic on the USS Princeton, an Independence-class aircraft carrier. A Japanese dive bomber set off explosions that sank the ship during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Philippines, on Oct. 24, 1944, and Buster was one of 1,361 sailors from the carrier rescued from the sea. For my cousins and me raised in the rolling seas of Montana fields, the vast ocean was a faraway place we could only imagine.

After his Navy service, he joined the U.S. Army and served in Europe. When I was about 12, after he taught me how to shoot a .22-caliber rifle for the first time, he showed me a German Luger pistol he had taken from a dead Nazi officer and taken back to the United States after the war. He showed me the small swastika carved into the side of the barrel — a symbol my grandfather and those of his generation went to war to fight against.

Buster met my grandmother at a USO dance after the war. They married after she earned her degree and raised seven children, one of whom was my mother.

When the cancer became terminal, I visited him at home one last time, knowing it would be the last chance we would have to ever talk. He spoke more to me in those few hours then in all the years I had ever known him. I realized I was more like him — stubborn, stoic and funny — than I had could have imagined.

When my grandfather died, my uncles and cousins served as pallbearers, burying him at our family farm, while seven old men from his local VFW hall, dressed in their best uniforms, fired a 21-gun salute to honor their friend, their brother-in-arms and the best man I’ve ever known.

Our veterans are our connections to our history, both as a nation and as a people. Their stories are worth every moment because they can tell us who we are, what we believe and why we fight to preserve justice and liberty — ideals that transcend generations and national borders.

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