For Memorial Day, honoring family members of those who serve

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Ida Ayres never served a day in the armed forces, but at 95, she knows plenty about the sacrifices of war.

“Through six wars, I have been the daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother of family members who served, or are serving, their country,” Ida told me.

During World War I, Ida’s father, Sam DiRenna, fought for the Italian army. DiRenna, who was born in a small town near Naples, was captured by the Germans and spent 13 months in a concentration camp. The German’s branded his forehead — a scar he retained for the rest of his life.

He was declared a hero in Italy for overcoming the brutality. He eventually settled in America. He sent for his wife. They gave birth to Ida and two sons, Angelo and Pasquale. Life was hard during the Depression years, but Ida’s family prevailed.

But then America was thrust back into war — a war in which both of Ida’s brothers would serve. In 1944 Angelo enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Pasquale followed in 1945. Angelo was stationed on the LST 1040 and Pasquale served on a carrier.

Their letters home arrived every three or four weeks, then Angelo’s letters stopped coming. Six months passed without a word. Ida was distraught, her mother barely able to function. Finally, word came that Angelo’s ship had been in a typhoon. But he survived.

Both brothers returned home and the world was finally settling down. The economy grew at record rates. Ida eventually would marry and have two sons. Her husband Harry had fought in Korea before she met him (he’d doctored his birth certificate and found himself on the front lines as a 16 year old kid). After they married, he was called to serve another tour in Korea. Thankfully, he returned home safe.

But in 1966, her husband was called back again. This time he left his wife and two sons behind to fight in Vietnam. As an Army major, he was lucky to survive 12 months of dangerous air missions. In one battle his best friend had both arms and legs shot off right next to him.

In 1968, Ida’s oldest son, Sam, announced he was eager to join his father in Vietnam. Fresh out of high school at 17, Sam became an Army medic. He saw some of the worst horrors that that war produced, horrors that are with him still.

Thankfully, both Harry and Sam made it home. Finally, Ida hoped, life could get back to normal. And for the most part, life did get back to normal. America went on to enjoy an amazing run of prosperity. We were riding high until 9/11, when we were thrust into conflict again.

Ida’s youngest son, my good friend Thomas Ayres, is a West Point graduate. He served as a Judge Advocate General for three years in Afghanistan and Iran. Before retiring in 2017, after 33 years of service, he served as the Army’s 20th Deputy Judge Advocate General.

To date, all of Ida’s living grandchildren have served or are serving. Sam’s son served in the U.S. Marines. Tom’s daughter is married to a Marine pilot. One of Tom’s sons, a West Point graduate, is serving in the Army. His other son serves in the U.S. Coast Guard.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country — those who have risked all to protect the freedoms we enjoy.

While we honor them, let’s also pay homage to the parents, children, siblings and spouses who are quietly sacrificing for their country.

Copyright 2024 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

See Tom Purcell’s syndicated column, humor books and funny videos featuring his dog, Thurber, at Email him at [email protected].

Find Tom Purcell’s syndicated column, humor books and funny videos of his dog, Thurber, at Email him at [email protected].