Memorial Day – Losers can be winners too
Depicted here is Herrmann Sommermeyer – my Granddad. He was a loser; in the beginning of May 1945 him and his comrades threw their guns in a ditch in Russia. They came home as losers of a tragic war that had changed their lives and that of millions of others. No one but your family roots for you when you come home and are a loser like that. Herrmann was a winner too though and that was his long lasting contribution making sure that so many allied soldiers did not die in vain.
If you have never watched Saving Private Ryan than please do so when you have a chance. In it there is the closing scene when retirement aged Ryan is shown asking his wife whether or not he had made a great life providing for others and bettering other’s people’s lives. A lot of GIs had died saving him and Tom Hank’s dying character had asked him “to earn this” 9- his life. That is when I think of my granddad. He tried very hard to earn his life every day.
I am fairly certain that he had always been a just man with great core values, but the war must have made another deep impression on him as to why Germany lost and that all men are indeed created equal and shall always be treated the same. Many of his traits rubbed off on his children, grand-children, and now also his great-grand-children:
- When you lose, do it graciously: Never once did I ever hear him complain about losing the war. He treated this with a matter of fact manner. When you lose, you lose. Accept the facts and move on with your life.
- Play the cards that life hands to you: PTSD was not a thing back then, but if he had it then he hid it very well. Top this off with challenging monetary and family tragedies (his wife of only a few years died during the war while he was at the front). He stoically went on with life and he selflessly helped his family make it through the toughest times of their lives. He never asked for anything in return and managed to muster a smile and even a good laugh along the way. He stuck it out and created a fantastic life for him and his family.
- Treat everyone fairly – everyone: “Wir sind alle nur Menschen” (we are all only humans) he used to say. Him and grandma opened their doors to a Turkish man and a Portugese family who rented a small apartment during the 70s and 80s in the old family homestead of over 100 years. “We had better learned our lesson” was another saying that stuck with me since then and that was probably why I never heard him discriminate against anyone.
- Enjoy life while you can and make sure that you share that with people who mean the most to you: Case in point was that for instance him and grandma gave us grandkids our inheritance while they were alive. Everyone always got the same as the others and they were so right to watch us receive their gracious gifts. “We would rather watch you guys enjoy the money and what you will do with it; it will not do us any good after they plant us into the ground”.
- Make sure that you fight for the rights of others – period: As a rebellious and all-knowing teenager this was the toughest value to understand and to turn into action for me. It stuck with me though and after having gone through getting bullied in school and apprenticeship I knew what it meant to be at the receiving end of it. It taught me well though and ever since I have been trying my best to fend for people who cannot do this on their own.
- Make sure you stay physically and mentally active: “Who and whatever rests, rusts”, meaning that you need to have a healthy and active body in order for it to support our brilliant brains. Working out exactly those gray muscles and using them for doing good for others was his favorite thing to do. He stayed active until the end when cancer claimed his life.
- Be curious, courageous, and determined: Make sure that you are always inquisitive and have the courage and determination to plan and execute upon what you set out to do.
- Respect nature and be just as fair to it as you are to your fellow man: He was not necessarily a fan of the green movement and yet ironically enough he instilled much of their values and strategies in his family. Thanks to living to the economic depression times of post WWI and then sifting through rubble again after WWII nothing would ever go to waste. Our households were pretty much self-sufficient well into the early 80s(!). Going to the grocery store was a rare occasion.
- Last but not least – war is never the first answer: He was convinced that the vast majority of military or any other form of violent conflict was / is not necessary. It certainly should never be the first answer. There are times when war is justified and necessary, but let’s never hastily risk our service people’s lives needlessly.
I prefer to think of my Granddad Herrmann as being a winner even though Germany had lost the war. Transformed through war for the better he changed countless lives for the better forever. With that our Allied Soldiers and all other innocent souls that were lost along the way of the conflict did not die in vain. I can see some of the same values reflected in his grandkids (my sister’s and my cousins’ kids) to this day.
With that I dedicate this post to all the folks who either lost their lives or are currently risking their lives such that we may live a life in safety, comfort, and freedom. I encourage you never letting us forget how great a risk and sacrifice this really is. Most of all I am hoping that our future Commander in Chief will reflect and respect the core values and aspirations I tried highlighting with this post.