I never met my grandfather, but I heard stories of him from the time I was little. He was a war hero who had died long before I was born, testing new planes for the US Air Force. The first time I watched The Right Stuff with my dad, he pointed at Chuck Yeager and said, “That’s what your granddad did after the war.” He’s one of the reasons I joined the USAF when it was my turn to serve my country.
During WWII, he gained some notoriety for shooting down the 1000th plane over Malta. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and later earned an additional bar for his DFC. He was apparently equal parts hotshot and hothead (think Maverick from Top Gun).
I knew that he had joined the war before the US entered the fray because he flew with the RAF’s Eagle Squadron, which was made up of American (and other non-British) pilots who were stepping up to the plate. What I didn’t know until I was an adult is that when he chose to do that, he was committing what was considered an act of treason.
At the time, you see, the US had some pretty stringent “neutrality laws.” These, among other things, prohibited American citizens from serving in the armed forces of other countries, no matter which side those other countries were on. The American pilots who joined the RAF did so at the very real risk of imprisonment and even losing their US citizenship. But my grandfather and the other men he served with joined because “the USA didn’t enter the war soon enough for [them].” He knew what was happening was wrong and horrible, and he signed up to fight Nazis at the risk of never being able to return home, or being thrown in jail if he did.
I don’t know what the future holds for this country. It looks pretty bleak right about now. If it is soon declared treasonous to act against Nazis and other white supremacist groups, I won’t be particularly surprised. But I tell you right now, I do not care. I will ALWAYS stand up to Nazis and their ilk, up to and including Donald J. Trump. Because I know what my grandfather knew: getting involved and standing up for the right thing is what you do, no matter what your government says. Fighting Nazis and those like them is always the right thing.
If you’d like to read more about my grandfather and the pilots he flew with, here are some links: