My grandfather came home from fighting in Europe during World War II, and never drove a vehicle again in his life: He'd seen the jeep full of soldiers in front of him drive off the side of a mountain as he followed behind driving a supply truck for the convoy.
My great-grandfather survived a torpedo strike on his ship, and walked away with a piece of the ship he served on: we have it here, in a box of my grandmother's stuff, and I didn't know anything about it until I looked it up. **
My great-great-great grandfather was killed on his way home for registering to fight for the Union in the Civil War: a bridge was washed out, and he was washed along with it.
Five of my great-uncles fought during WWII, and managed to come back alive: one of them was a medic at D-Day, and wrote back to his sister (my grandmother) that his "worst fear was coming across my brother, blown to bits, and knowing I wouldn't be able to put him back together." He served for three years, hiding the fact that he was blind in one eye for his entire tour of duty.
My uncles served: Korea, Vietnam, (relative) peacetime. On ships, planes and submarines.
My cousin was the most handsome man I'd ever seen in uniform, and his father said the military made him better than he knew he could be, (which only makes sense if you know that my cousin always thought he could be anything, so that's really saying something).
My dad served for the first 15 years of my life, fought in Iraq, Desert Storm, as I sat, frozen in front of the television screen watching as little green bombs lit up the night-vision sky, blasting away people and lives, worried I'd never hear from him again. He came home, eventually, but he didn't come home whole. He told my brother once that he was a Navy Seal: I don't know if it's true or not, but it comforts my brother to think of all the heroic things he did while he was away from us. It doesn't comfort me much. I don't know what he saw or did while he was in the Navy, I only know that it took him away from me when I was a little girl, and took it's toll on him when he came back. He didn't get help for what was (arguably, but most likely) some very real PTSD - he didn't think he had a problem with drinking, and he'd fight you if you tried to talk to him about it. He wasn't depressed, except for when her was really depressed, and that was all someone else's fault anyways, so what did he need help for?
And when he died, we still had his ashes scattered at sea. The Navy sent us a DVD of the ceremony: short, sacred, solemn. Gone.
So, it's Memorial Day, and I remember: Nurses who served at hospitals, filling in for the ones that got sent overseas. Youngest brothers who moved their new families home to Boston because all of the older brothers had to go fight and someone had to stay with their parents. The creaks of metal being pressurized as you take your first dive in a submarine and pray that the stupid thing holds. Rising to the highest civilian rank in the Air Force and being accepted as the 'boss of the base.' And all the mothers and sisters and daughters and wives, sons and fathers and brothers, who waited at home. The soldiers who came back, the soldiers who didn't, and the soldiers who only sort-of did.
**The ship was the USS Mt Vernon , in case you're interested. (There's also pictures of my Dad, Grandfather & Great- Grandfather in their uniforms.)