The Story of One Member of My Family Essay Example
The process in creating this project was like no other project I had ever done before. Nearly all of the projects I had been assigned in my high school and first semester of college, had the same exact dull criteria and foundations. Yet, this was something remarkably different. Gathering the research for my topic gave me countless tears, and even brought me closer to my mother than I had ever imagined before. I have always been close to her, yet not like this. This story about my grandfather created a new level of love and gratitude between us that I could never have known to be possible before, and I am so grateful for the place we are in now, from a relationship standpoint.
The same story was told to me for numerous years: my grandfather died in his 50’s because of his liver failing on him due to alcoholism. If I was lucky, I would receive a sliver of information regarding his World War II experience, but just a miniscule snippet, if that. Yet, I am 18 now, and know I am mature enough to handle what truly happened to my grandfather. Therefore, when this assignment was given to us in class, I was originally in a rut and had no clue what to do, but a lightbulb flicked on in my head and I was eager to finally find out what happened to my grandfather. Thus, my mother gave me the green light and we dove into my grandfather’s war memorabilia and his journal entries, to be more specific.
My grandfather: Edward A. Bitsco, was born on 4/25/1921. He grew up in Pennsylvania with a great, loving family. A few years after high school, Ed decided that he wanted to go to the war, and off he went. Only in his early 20s, Edward was enlisted and was ready to fight for his country. Initially, he was stationed in Arizona, and was then sent to go fight in WWII over in Europe later on, for the air force. He was a plane radio operator in the war, yet everything went horribly wrong in the beginning of his time over Austria. In searching for the enemies on the ground below, his heart skipped a beat when he realized that something was very wrong. When looking outside the side window of the plane, from his point of view, Edward said that he, “saw my first puff of black smoke” (6)… “countless puffs were filling the sky” (7). Indeed, his plane was being down shot by Germans waiting below. While he and his crew were ordered to check out the busted engines, Ed was hit in the eye with loose glass from a window that was shot by the enemy. In a panic he said that the “windows were peppered with holes. I put my hand to my face”(9)… he then screamed, “I’m hit… The blood reached down to my elbow before Rex came and shoved me back to sit down”(9).
Even when hit and bleeding profusely, my grandfather was forcefully made to quit his whimpering, as there were more important things to take care of than his eyesight at the moment. This broke my heart to read, as it was probably very hard for the other men to look at my wounded grandfather, their friend. Yet, they did not want to die, with the plane crashing and they did not want my grandfather to give up, so they had to be smart, and think ahead. Thus, they all started setting up their parachutes in mere seconds, as everything was happening lightning fast. They all started to jump out of the plane one by one, and it was Ed’s turn: “I turned around enough to see flames gushing out of the bomb bay and dropped out head first. I dropped about 10,000 feet below, opening the chute. I came out of the ship freezing through space until I opened the chute. It was so warm my ears were blocked so everything seemed so peaceful and faint” (13).
The fact that this experience was peaceful for my grandfather is gut-wrenching, to me. He was faced with such a catastrophe, that him falling 10,000 feet to the ground with a bloody, wounded eye was peaceful. This is so saddening to read, and to see just how brutal the war was for him. I just wish he was able to experience true peace, yet of course my naïve wishes cannot be granted. Anyways, soon after that, he hit the ground to meet a German gestapo, which was another term for a Nazi police man. They started making conversation, and my grandfather was asked if he was an American and if he liked Europe or not. So, Ed replied with two strong yes’s, in hopes that he would get off easy.
So, the man firmly snapped back, saying, (in the words of Ed), “why the hell did I come over and bomb it for?” (16). Fear struck, and he couldn’t answer the man. So he was helped to his feet, surprisingly, by the same man who had just yelled at him, which is quite confusing. My grandfather had one boot on his right foot at this point, as he lost the other one on the way down, resulting in a sprained left ankle upon arrival to the earth’s surface. He was then met by more Germans, and was ordered to walk ¾ of a mile on his burning, aching feet. Upon arrival to their station, “they came to me with two rifles pointed… and asked if I had my pistol, if so, surrender it or they’ll kill me” (17). Yet, they found nothing after a thorough search of my grandfather. A vehicle pulled up, manned by German soldiers, and they grabbed him, threw him on, and eventually passed his burning plane. Now, “the guard tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to it and laughed” (18). This quote stings really badly.
Some painful facts
To think that he was so close to death, and the guards find pure amusement in the fact that he and his team failed is disgusting and painful to read. Thank god he made it out of the crash alive, unlike some of his other soldiers that were on that plane with him beforehand. Upon arrival to one of their air bases, he was interrogated and was forced to give them all of his valuables; like his watch, bracelet, etc. Along with that, he was made to give them his full name, serial number, and other personal information. Then, he was placed in a cell and a doctor came in, checking out his eye. He described the experience in depth when saying, “ he pulled my eye lids apart putting some sort of clamp between them with a white cloth that a hole in the center of it over it.
They put a needle in my eye injecting some local anesthetic into it and then getting a pair of long pliers pulled a piece of glass about 3/8 long out. I was surprised at the size of it.” (23, 24). Following this, his eye was simply bandaged and he was ordered to walk to the other Americans. There he saw some people he knew, which comforted him, even though some of them had their legs blown off, holes in their sides, and many other terrible injuries. They were all then locked up in separate cells and were given some bread and coffee, which he called “tobacco juice”, by the disgusting taste.
The food rationing was terrible, and they were hungry for the greater majority of the day. After being locked up here for quite some time, the Americans were brought to the Budapest State Penitentiary, in Hungary. The food rationing slowly got worse, and hunger was beginning to become a regular part of Edward and his fellow soldier’s day. The cells here were rougher, and the conditions were pitiful. A tiny room full of upwards of 24 men attempted to sleep, and Ed described what they slept on was covered in “bed bugs, lice, fleas, and what they. The bed bugs were so immense that they kept pulling the blanket off of us all night. That made it cold sleeping.” (50). I could never in a million years imagine being able to sleep in something like this. Gratitude. Gratitude is something that I need to start thinking about on a day-to-day basis.
I have so many great opportunities, and I have a wonderful shelter and family to be around. Edward was given this disgusting mess, while attempting to give us Americans a better life. He was so brave in my eyes. In continuation, as the days passed, he said that he probably lost about 10 to 12 pounds because of starvation, and was given some revolting information as well. It turned out that the “food” they were given, was actually very different than it appeared to be on the surface. The bread was actually made with sawdust, the jam was made out of coal, and their coffee was brewed from acorns that the soldiers found on the ground. This is simply unbearable to ponder on.
Loneliness and pain
As he was tortured every day, life was a complete drag at this point. Time moved forward, and my grandfather really missed home more than anything. He was not receiving any letters, and this hurt him greatly, but he could not show that sadness to anyone. The men were supposed to be tough, and try to stick their emotional pain out, as gender roles and norms were at an all-time high. People were dying left and right from electrocutions, diphtheria, and a countless amount of other ways a person could die by disease or torture. Eventually, they were made to walk from one camp to another camp, and had to walk for 26 days straight, landing in Germany.
This was because the Russian soldiers were trying to rescue the people that Germany had captured, so the Germans had to constantly move their prisoners all around, to avoid being confronted with the Russian Army. From all of the walking and marching, Ed’s feet burned constantly, but he pushed on and refused defeat. While in a new camp in Germany, Ed and his cell mate were ordered to wake up. So he shot up, ready to do whatever he was told, meanwhile his friend was sound asleep, so he thought. So Ed went over to wake him up with a rough slap, but “it felt awful, the poor kid died in his sleep” (134). This quote speaks for itself. One of his few friends had died in his sleep, in the bed next to him.
I cannot even dive into this one without becoming overwhelmed with sadness. Marching from camp to camp became a daily routine, and Ed even said that his “stomach shrunk so small that I could walk a day on a potato” (141). He and the others realized that they had marched a total of 300 miles in the past few months and had each lost about 25 pounds. I still try to take that in every day. 300 miles. 300 miles, I repeat. This is absolutely insane for me to try and grasp. That is just ridiculous. This next entry broke me completely. My grandfather says, “If I wake tomorrow, I’ll continue, I feel like the last few steps to hell. Lord help me.” (150). I just wish I could magically go there and take my grandfather to shelter. I wish none of this happened to him, but that is all irrational. So, I calmly sit here, crying, constantly thankful for the fact that he made it out of the war alive, and that he did not give up. He pushed, and pushed, so hard that he was consistently seconds away from death based on his state of health at the time. His entries came to a halt, and he returned home shortly thereafter, as the Americans were rescued by fellow Russian soldiers.
Life after getting back
Later on, after meeting my grandmother, having kids, and working back home in Connecticut with the family, he became a heavy drinker. He did not speak a word to anyone about the war, even his wife. He suffered from horrific night terrors and nightmares every night. My grandfather died on August 1st,1983. Thus, I never got to meet him. What hurts the most about the whole situation is that fact that he was muted by gender roles. Men were supposed to be tough, strong, and to not speak about their mental and emotional health. He drank a little at first, but then drank every day, throughout the day and night. My grandmother did not speak a word to him about what he was going through from an emotional standpoint, as she expected him to be strong, and was not used to men having emotional struggles like this.
Yet, I do not think my grandmother truly knew better. At that time in the United States, the norms were strictly enforced on a day to day basis, and men were supposed to be tough, while the women watched the children, and cleaned the house. An interesting thing to note was that my grandmother actually worked a very high amount of hours everyday, for “bic pen”. In my opinion, this challenged social norms, so it makes me angry that she couldn’t challenge the norm of gender stereotyping, and to just tend to my emotionally destroyed grandfather. Money was tight though, so she didn’t work to just challenge the norm, she simply needed to support the family, so she did just that, and was actually challenging norms in the process, without realizing it. If only she recognized that she did not have to follow the secret rules in society and just help my grandfather throughout his struggle, maybe the outcome could have been different.
Reflecting on this assignment and the history of my grandfather is something that I would love to dive into. My grandfather’s past has been a secret for so long. I needed to know what he truly went through, and it turns out that his darkest torture moments were actually not written down in his entries. The most brutal things were passed down by word-of-mouth to my mother, when she was younger, as she begged him to tell her. One of those secrets for example, was that soldiers placed toothpicks under his nails and hit them, so they would go through the skin and nails. On the surface, this idea of him not writing his most brutal experiences does not seem like that big of a deal. Yet, this says a lot. My grandfather probably thought that his journal entries would be read some day, and he specifically avoided writing down his worst experiences.
Thus, this tells us that he bottled all of those terrible times inside for years. He followed gender stereotypes, just like everyone else, and kept everything inside. The bottling of his experiences ended up in his consuming of thousands of bottles of alcohol, pun intended. Stereotypes and gender norms/roles continually destroy society. In fact, I blame the norms evenly with the war itself in the cause of my grandfather’s alcoholism, and eventual death. If society did not shove these ideas down everyone’s throats, maybe Edward would have had an outlet. Maybe he would talk through everything, and he could cry without a care in the world about what that looked like from the outside.
Maybe he would still be alive to see his children and wife prosper and pass on a great life to their children. So, the big takeaway from all of this ranting is the fact that war and being a prisoner of war more specifically, is horrific, as stated through his experience. This leads to PTSD in thousands of people every single day, yet soldiers need an outlet. If society keeps enforcing these norms, more people will never meet their grandfather or grandmother, like myself. More people will lose their husband, father, wife, mother, etc., to terrible alcoholism, or other drug use due to extreme bottling of endless emotion that is crucial to release in a healthy manner.
Next, I would love to dive into the topic of gratitude. I mentioned it earlier in my paper, yet it needs to be talked about more in depth this time. I have a roof over my head, I have clothes, I have food and water, I have a loving family, and I am not facing anything even remotely close to what Edward faced. I find that many of us in my generation complain about the most simple, petty things. We complain if its drizzling, or if we get a little ketchup on our shirt. If the Wi-Fi is down we throw a fit.
I think that billions of people have things far worse than we could ever imagine in a million years, and we need to start being grateful for every single breathing, healthy moment that we have. More specifically, the biggest thing I am thankful for is that gender norms and stereotypes have changed so much since the 1940’s. So, as I sit here, as an emotional wreck, I will cry. I will shed all of the tears that my grandfather was forced to hold back. I am going to do this for him, any time that I feel sad or stuck. If I need to talk through my feelings, I am going to talk until I cannot breathe.
I want to show the world that it is okay for men to cry and to show emotion, or to just feel in general. If my grandfather was still alive, I would let him cry on my shoulder all night if that’s what it took to make him feel better. I would tell anyone who judged him to maybe look at themselves and to help them realize that they are simply insecure and wasting their time making fun of someone, when they should be fixing themselves, rather than screaming at them or fighting in an attempt to show them my beliefs. I think that my grandfather’s death sparked something inside me that will not be shut down. I want the world to change for the better and I want everyone to be able to be their true, authentic selves, without fear of judgement.
Gender roles in society
This entire story really changed my understanding of gender roles in society as a whole. As a kid, gender roles really stifled me and shaped me into someone who I was not destined to be. Thankfully times are changing, so I can be emotional, caring, and I am “allowed” to feel, with only some judgement. If I am being honest here, I was ignorant. I thought gender roles were terrible now, yet I had no clue how horrible they were back in the day. Gender roles in society pushed my grandfather, and probably thousands of other men and women to their deaths, yet society made sure to hide that. Society made sure to have it seem as though they died for other over-arching reasons. Yet, norms and roles are probably the biggest culprit of them all. This project was a huge eye-opener for me, in helping me see just how destructive the rules embedded in society can be. I am so thankful that I dove into my grandfather’s story to see how serious these issues truly are.
I would also love to talk about family. Family is supposed to be there for you through thick and thin, through the good times, and all of the bad times. Yet, Edward was not cared for in the bad times. In fact, he was left completely alone, and was basically fending for himself. His war experience turned into a war in his own mind that never ended. At first glance, this makes me angry at my grandmother. She could have saved him, rather than not speaking about anything. He could still be alive for god’s sake…, but I continually defend her. “Why though?”, one might ask, and the answer is simple. It is because that is how family worked back then. Families operated in that way. If there was an issue in the family, men were to deal with it. Men did not cry, or feel sad about things. They felt strong, sexual, angry, masculine, and that was it. So, my grandmother did not know what to do. She was stuck and confused. She was probably wondering why he couldn’t just move past his issues, and just let him do it himself because he “should’ve been able to”. Yet, this is not what I consider to be a family in today’s age.
I do not care about someone’s race, gender, sexuality, etc., if a family member needed help I will be there for the entire duration of the problem. If someone is incapable of that these days, maybe they should not be in a family all together, after all. I think that as a society we can look at examples like this to see what a family truly is. All over social media, people post pictures with their families and say things like, “family first” or “family over everything”, but is this true? Do people really place that much importance on their loved ones? I think that family is extremely important, but the condition of the family is even more crucial to me. Everyone in the family should have each other’s backs if any of them needs help. Family members should be accepting, comforting, and respectful to each other. I believe that society has broken down countless families all around the world, and family is something that a person should always be able to fall back on. So, I think people should really look towards their family relationships, and see if things are really good for everyone in it, after all.
Lastly, in reflecting upon my assignment and research, I am excited to delve into the topic of how questioning societal norms in everyday life can impact my personal or professional life. Do not get me wrong, going with the flow of things in life can be freeing, and is something that I think everyone can do every once in a while. Yet, most people go with the flow of things way too often. Humans do not like change, and this further ties in to people not wanting to see another person’s point of view. Thus, every day, I witness people saying offensive things to others, about others behind their backs, or simply just watching ills in society without speaking a word, as they “don’t want to get involved” or “it’s not my place”.
Yet, actions like this continuously damage people more and more. When people are going about their daily lives, they need to look at themselves and others with a critical eye, noticing how things could change for the better. I believe that everyone should be appreciative of the life they have, yet we need to look at how we can all make this earth a better place for everybody in a societal aspect. For example, if I did not like something about a person, rather than just going with whatever I want to do, I can stop, evaluate the situation, and realize that saying or doing something hurtful/offensive will not do any good for anybody. More importantly, if someone else is doing something bad, we need to get involved and educate people on how to handle situations that are simply wrong, rather than ignoring the situation, or just lashing out.
As humans, we have very complex and intelligent minds, and I think we need to use them to the best of our ability by constantly looking around us and at ourselves, and asking if that action, or this situation is truly a good thing or a negative thing. No human is born a bad person, people pass those traits down to those kids through actions and scenarios that those kids witness as they grow up through their childhood. Thus, we need to make sure to set great examples for future generations. One person can affect billions of people, and that person who starts everything can be good or bad. It is up to us to set wonderful examples for people who can pass these things on to others, and this domino effect can lead to a better future for all. Yet, it all starts with questioning ourselves, others, values, morals, and the way that society functions around us every single day.
I am still in shock at just how much my grandfather’s story has affected me, and how many lightbulbs have clicked in my head after reading into his story. Just one story has changed me a lot, and how I perceive things in general, so I wonder how the world would be if we all read more stories like this. Maybe society can change together and we can reach new heights that have never been reached before. It might sound irrational or “too good to be true”, but there is no harm in trying to see a positive future for our society. Thus, stories like this need to be heard.
My grandfather’s story has been hidden from me for so many years and at first I was not sure why. Yet, maybe my family knew that I would do something big with it. Maybe they knew that I would try to make a big change in the world, and they were just comfortable with the way things were, so they did not want me to know about it. Well, I say no more to that. No more secrets and no more comfortableness. It’s time for me to make a change, and I know that it’s going to be big.
I want everyone to know about this story. Maybe my grandfather would be able to spend time with my family and I, to this very day, if things were different in terms of gender roles and norms. This cycle needs to break immediately, as I know there are an abundant amount of alcohol and drug users around the globe bottling their emotion every single day due to society’s pressures placed upon them. Currently though, I am struggling to see how I can truly impact the world. Sure, people can hear this story, but will it truly change their minds? Will it really hit them hard? I do not know where to start besides just getting the story out in general. Maybe it can be small and can turn into a domino effect. Thus, I think that social media is a wonderful place to start.
If I were to put my grandfather’s story on Instagram or Facebook, for example, people might truly be captivated in it, as it is something meaningful rather than boring selfies of people at the beach or getting drunk with their friends. Once I have people captivated, maybe they could repost it and spread it to more and more people. If reposting does not work, maybe the people who were impacted could tell their families, and the whole idea could be spread by word-of –mouth to friends, family, neighbors, etc. I think that this could go a very long way, and things could really start to shift in society. Interestingly, this hopeful future can indeed be connected towards my thoughts on gratitude. I believe that far too often, people think that they are just young and have little to no power. Yet, in this day and age, we actually have more power than ever before, with the help of social media. Our generation can spread information in a heartbeat, and this can be abused, or it could be used for good. This specific case of my grandfather’s story is an example of the good side of things. I aspire to use social media in an authentic and helpful way for society as a whole.
Now, at this point, one might be asking: “Okay, we get it… you want to tell people your story about your grandfather, but what do you really want them to grasp?” The answer to this question is broken down into two pieces: Number one would be the enlightenment of how poorly gender roles affect people in our society. Men are not supposed to feel or show emotion, but rather, we are told to be tough and brave 100% of the time, according to society’s unwritten rules that everyone bows down to every day of their lives. This leads to suicides, extreme anger or sadness, drug abuse, etc.
I think that if people truly recognized how terrible gender roles affect our society, than maybe we could all start to slowly remove them one by one. In order for change to occur, recognition and awareness must come first, though. Change does not happen without valid reasoning and proof, so it is crucial that people get their stories out there in the open. Society needs to wake up as a whole, through this possible domino effect of stories being released in the future. These stories could hopefully bring everyone together in a hope for change. Stories being told is so significant because we can all speak and feel for those who couldn’t; for those whose lives were impaired or cut short due to the fact that they weren’t allowed to feel.
In continuation, I would hope that my grandfather’s story opens people’s eyes wider than ever before. Many war or prisoner-of-war stories strictly focus on the surface level of things. To clarify, it is rare for a person to connect PTSD to a societal level, as people usually just link it to that specific person, or event, such as war. Yet, PTSD is already a terrible disorder on its own, and this is true. Nothing makes stress worse than when it cannot be expressed in a healthy manner, though. I want people in society to see these stories as something more than just surface level.
People should be aware of the concept that maybe if troubled people were allowed a voice by society, they could still be alive today. Granted, life would never be 100% perfect for them, but at least they would be able to healthily work through their struggles. We have to all be there for each other in order for society to grow stronger, together. Gender roles are not only horrific, but have continually harmed people for all of time. In conclusion, I think that the addressing and reevaluating of gender roles could change our society in the best way we have ever seen it before.
When I was considering what topic I would like to do for this project, I was truly at a loss for quite some time, until I thought about my grandfather. After speaking with my mom, I was just all ears for the details about him, totally forgetting about the project in general. This then turned into a million different lightbulbs and connections flashing in my head. Spreading awareness can be done for many different reasons, but one thing rings true to me. That is, that my grandfather’s story will be told, not just for him, but for millions of other underrepresented men in society that are continually torn apart by gender roles.
Whether it is through social media, by word of mouth, or another method I have not come across yet, his story will have a domino effect and I know it. I know that men can relate to the themes mentioned previously, and have a very hard time admitting this, but it only takes one man to start the domino effect. That person is me. I can feel, cry, hurt, be emotional, and be a million other things that society says I can't. I will cry until my eyes hurt, so that I can show one other man that he can too. He can feel as much as he wants and that is perfectly okay. This will continue and continue until we are done with society’s stupid norms and roles. Men will be able to feel at last.