Let me introduce you. This is my father, Daniel Hritzko, born November 25, 1918 in Chisholm, Minnesota. His father, Dmitri, arrived in America through Ellis Island and worked for two years before returning to Europe to gather his wife and two children. They settled on a large family farm where eight more children would be born. What identified this family was their strong work ethic and core values. My father really did walk ten miles in the snow to attend school in nearby Hibbing. Then, upon returning home each day, family chores necessitated survival. What did they value? The underprivileged. Why? Because this family knew what it was like to survive hard times. Every day was just like the one before it. Nothing was handed to them. My father always cheered for the "underdog" and, consequently, was a registered Democrat his entire life. You didn't need talk or debate this issue. He understood, firsthand, what it was like to be in this country as an "outsider." To him, this meant you worked hard for everything that came your way.No handouts, no entitlement, no recognition. You did what you had to do. But that did not deter him or his siblings. They, unlike their parents, were college educated. And what was his next step after high school? The Uniform. His high school academic career provided an athletic opportunity where he played football for the University of Minnesota. World War II interrupted the continuity of his education, so he donned the second uniform. The Uniform of a Soldier. He enlisted on May 19, 1942. Except for brief discharges to complete his education, he remained committed for a lifetime. Three wars, eight combat campaigns, a Silver Star for crossing the Rhine River under heavy "enemy resistance" and countless other accolades (The Bronze Star [twice] and a dozen others) would span hiscareer. His title by the end of his stellar career was Colonel. Fullbird, that is. He never spoke of any accomplishments or awards. His ability to lead came from his core trait of humility. Allegiance to this country and what it represented went hand in hand. The land of the free, the home of the brave. Being underprivileged and wearing a uniform - athletic or military - were not exclusive categories; rather, they represented the same core values his family believed in. My father died on July 23, 2001. I was able to give him recognition in death that he never desired in life - a full honors burial at Arlington with a 21 gun salute. His two living brothers had seats of honor at the graveside. I accepted the flag because my mother could not attend. Previously underprivileged, now being recognized in death. Previously uniformed, now being honored by those in uniform. I fully believe his heart would break over the current mindset as well as the actions by those involved in the game he loved. His football uniform and military uniform were not exclusive. It was because of the latter that he was given an opportunity as the former. The Unacceptable. Disrespect to this country or flag would have been, in my father's opinion, completely unacceptable. It was THIS country that afforded his family a chance, an opportunity, and a beginning. And they knew it, embraced it, and embarked on it. And because of his beginning, he gave me mine. He took a risk, he worked relentlessly, and he adopted. Me. Because of your under privilege, you gave me privilege. Because of your uniform, you gave me freedom. Because of your unacceptable mindset of irreverence, you instilled respect. I will honor your legacy as I leave mine. You are the example that mutually exclusive categories do not exist. Colonel Daniel Hritzko November 25, 1918 - July 23, 2001
It was only fitting that I would choose this movie as the week closes on Veterans’ and Election Day.
I watched the movie as close to home as I have gotten in the last 15 years – Smith Mountain Lake – since my parents have passed. Ironically, this location is only an hour from the setting of the movie and where my parents took retirement after active service (Lynchburg, VA).
One of my earliest memories is meeting my father in Honolulu while he was on R & R from Viet Nam. He had already served in World War II and Korea. I wasn’t more than five years old when we swayed and danced to The Girl from Ipanema. He led while I positioned my feet on top of his. But something happened in those post retirement years, not long after our dance. How one handles horrific experiences of combat is unique.
In the years that followed, I went to college, married, and became a mother. My young adult self would utter, “I just don’t understand,” when my father, this Army colonel, never volunteered to discuss his more than 30 years of active service.
A few years before his death, I imploringly wrote a short note inside a Father’s Day card, asking him to share his experiences with his young grandsons. The card was coupled with a shadow box of medals I had stumbled upon that had been tucked away in old bandaid boxes. How could something so valuable be hidden or kept in this manner?
I “consciously objected” to what I perceived as his lack of understanding on my part to know his history. I was trying desperately to understand the father I didn’t. And to know the father who had survived 3 wars and 8 combat campaigns, but slowly died in life engagement during post retirement years. But you don’t know what you don’t know. And, because I didn’t know, I lacked understanding.
The graphically visual scenes of this movie left clear understanding of what these veterans lived through and died for on behalf of each of us. We don’t know what we don’t know. And we don’t know what we don’t see, live through, or experience.
Except for those who are or have been serving in the last decade or so, many in my generation have no idea what sacrifice means. And neither do our children. I don’t know what I don’t know. They don’t know what they don’t know. And for this I am convicted and feel ashamed. I have no idea what sacrifice means. Really.
The awareness that this movie provides is impetus for shattering some beliefs while strengthening others. Here’s what is true about life:
- Battles in life can make us better or bitter.
- Faith carries when foes throw us down.
- Stamina is strengthened when strained.
My encouragement is for you to see this movie. Perhaps it will lend insight into a family member, yourself, or another.
And now I know what I know. And because I know, I understand. And because I understand, I can accept that to which I previously consciously objected. And maybe you will too.
Dad, I miss you. I have come full circle.
This blog is dedicated to all the men and women who serve this country. You truly know and understand. I salute you