A Picture Worth a Thousand Stories

May ushers in a season of expectations: the end of school and the start of summer, the hope of unscheduled, lazy days, the plans to visit faraway places. May is also a month for remembering, especially those who served our country in the Armed Forces. This May, I found myself arrested by an image that propelled me to remember and reflect on my own paternal grandfather, who died when I was three.

My memories of my grandfather are second-hand, cribbed from stories told by my parents, brother, aunts, and grandmother. He was tall, a devout Catholic, worked at the local A&P as a butcher, and always had a 5-pound bag of M&Ms on hand for my older brother’s visits. As I grew up, there was sporadic talk of his military service and I knew he served in WWII in the USA Air Force, but that was about it.

A few days ago, I was reading an online news magazine when I came across a curiosity called blood chits. Blood chits or rescue patches were (and are) carried by US military members. Written in multiple languages (specific to the theater of war), blood chits are essentially IOUs, requesting help for the stranded soldier in exchange for a monetary reward.

Blood chit with various languages

By US Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I clicked a few links within the Slate article on Blood Chits and eventually found myself on the Wikipedia entry, staring at an image much like this:

Blood chit

A blood chit used in WWII.
By US Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I had seen this before, but where? A quick email to my father and I knew the answer: my own grandfather had carried this during his service in WWII.

Blood chit

The Blood chit carried by my Grandfather. He served in India and China. You can just barely make out the ID number on the left – this was specific to the soldier.

Although I love history, I’ve never been terribly interested in war-related history. In school, I learned enough about various wars to pass my exams (okay, to pass my exams with As), but I never voluntarily picked up a book on WWII or the Civil War. My encounter with the blood chits created a virtual space for me to reflect on both the war itself and the individuals who served. In the days since I stumbled upon blood chits, I’ve learned more about my Grandfather*, reflected on the service of my Grandmother – not in the military but at home in upstate New York, wondered what life was like for them both and been profoundly grateful that I do not know.

Unitarian Universalism promotes “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning”, which for some includes looking backwards into history to make meaning for our lives today. For me, the blood chit drives me to reflect on my family history, to preserve it for my daughters, and to more fully appreciate the service of the men and women of the US military.

*He served in the 14th Air Force in China and India as a ‘special observer’. From my father, I learned that ‘special observer’ was code for a radar technician, a new technology in WWII. My Grandfather ended up making use of his blood chit when his plan was downed over China.

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About Jenni

For a Klondike bar, Jenni would participate in a Bonspiel, knit a sweater for a monkey, teach undergraduates about the dangers of asexual reproduction, or grill during a blizzard.