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Veteran’s Day Tribute: I Lost My Grandfather, Grandpa Bittner A True War Hero

I recently lost my Grandfather on Nov. 1. I have been thinking very deeply about my "Grandpa Bit" this last week and especially today. I am not one to discuss my feelings privately let alone in social media but Bit is too big of a man to pass unnoticed. Bit attended his Squadron’s reunion every year no matter where it was, anywhere in the country. In fact, he recently completed what turned out to be his last farewell trip to the remaining group of proud men of our greatest generation just weeks ago in Oklahoma City. We all think that Bit was holding on for one more event. One more chance to say hello as well as to say goodbye.

I am posting today because its Veteran's Day. You see my Grandfather flew 30 missions in WWII. He was a navigator on a B-17 "Flying Fortress" for the 388th Bomb Group in WWII. In this post you can see him standing next to a plane that was similar to the one that he flew in WWII which was taken at Seattle's Museum of Flight 4 years ago.

My Grandfather died at 92. But, he had the heart of a lion and the mind of a man in his mid-30's.
My Grandfather's war experiences clearly defined him as a man and as an American. That generation was tough. Really tough. I remember Bit telling me that the introductory speech from the commanding officer was not very reassuring about his long-term prospects on this planet.  The officer exclaimed to the large group of fresh aviators, that "boys most of you will not make it home." Of course, that was the generation that didn't back down to a threat and knew how to stand their ground. My Grandfather's plane never lost a man which was a remarkable feat. In fact, if your crewmen survived long enough you were known to be members of the "Lucky Bastards" club. Prior to 1944, a crewman's tour of duty was set at 25 missions. It is estimated that the average crewman had only a one in four chance of actually completing his tour of duty.

Grandpa Bit was a charming, gregarious, and incredible man. He always had a sparkle in his eye and a joke at the edge of this lips. He always saw the positive side to life. He had many lives after the war, many children, and many chapters to his life but the war was always the centerpiece of what made him who he was as an individual.  It defined his character. As Bit got older, he would talk about the War in more detail. He would talk to my kids about his experiences and his stories became the words of legend in our house. My kids would do school projects on Bit and they would always talk to their friends about how their Great Grandfather was a war hero.

Bit had an influence on all of us. He was edgy and eclectic. Very much on the edge of the norm with a big appetite for life. For example, my funniest story that I can muster was when he gave my brother and I a gift subscription (which he repeated for many years) to Playboy Magazine as a Christmas stocking stuffer. He had the gift certificate nestled in poster board surrounded by a collage of naked women cutouts. Btw, I was in 8th grade at the time and my brother was in 5th grade. I remember him saying with a sly quip, "you know Playboy has great articles," as I looked upon the landscape of naked women in my stocking with a mouth open as wide as the Grand Canyon. I could fill a book of quotations on the funny and interesting perspectives of Bit.

My own Dad is a Vietnam veteran and these discussions really haven't been apart of our family storytelling for obvious reasons — they are hard discussions. What an incredible sacrifice that these men have made. They are truly giants that are and have walked amongst us. I was walking around the other day thinking about the meaning of sacrifice and honor–it dawned on me that I would not be alive today if Grandpa Bit had not survived the war.

I am also thinking about Grandpa's wife, Marvinna, who was Bit's wife for 27 years. My prayers are for her and I thank God for her love and support for those many years. She is a saint. I am anxiously awaiting his Memorial Service.

Grandpa, I am wearing the sweatshirt that you gave me many years ago. The sweatshirt of the 388th. I miss you and I know that you are giving Heaven a run for its money. Love you Grandpa.



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