Tucked inside Six Years to Sunrise, there is a scrap of paper, written in Catherine Hoff Lafear’s handwriting, “Jeg deg elsker, bestemor.” Because of those we honor on Veterans’ Day, stories like the Hoff’s are preserved with a grace that cannot be replicated.
In English, it reads, “I love you, grandmother.” This is a note that Paige Powers was left by her great-grandmother inside Six Years to Sunrise, written by Olga and Carl Hoff’s daughters, Catherine Hoff Mount and Karen Hoff Lafnear, along with friend Harry Knitter. The book includes copies of letters sent to and from Norway and Detroit during the time of World War II.
Before the war hit Norway and froze all travel, Olga and her young daughters moved to Detroit, but Carl stayed behind in Norway to work so money could be sent to the girls. Some of the letters weren’t kept, so it’s impossible to know what every letter said. Some messages were opened when they arrived and took months to receive and send replies; some messages only got through because of Red Cross telegrams.
Originally, Carl was only to stay a year, but as the war raged on, it became evident that his arrival would be postponed. But what would have happened if the war kept going? How long would it be before Carl could see his wife and daughters? It’s quite possible that the war could have stopped them from ever reuniting. Every November, we have a day to remember such stories, because thousands of men and women fought so tirelessly to ensure Carl’s homecoming and many other families also had happy endings. Stories like this are why we honor them because happy endings cost an unreturnable price of life.
With such an amazing story behind them, it is no question why Powers holds her family dear to her heart and has no problem sharing their family pride and Norwegian heritage. “This is my great-great-grandparent’s story…This is Karen, and that’s Catherine,” Paige points at the children’s faces on the cover.
The letters were often on the back of postcards and had to be kept short, but it didn’t stop Olga from sharing how the girls were growing, and it didn’t keep Carl from always reminding Olga that he missed her dearly. A story that is familiar to many couples and families during both World Wars.
Alongside their stories, there are hundreds of others that share the same separation and hope of safe return. American women went to work while they wished and prayed that the war would end and send their husbands home, jewish families separated in concentration camps looked for the smallest signs from God that the war would end soon.
These stories were only possible because of the tragedies that tore them apart. While we wish that no war of equal calamity happens again, we must remember the love and hope that rose about all. Without the brave who gave for others’ lives it would be impossible to celebrate love and love-lost during the war.
More than just a day to wave our stars and stripes, Veteran’s day is dedicated to thanking all men and women who have served in the military, in and out of combat. It’s important that we remember and honor those who have given so much for us.
A powerful way to express our gratitude for their sacrifice is to emulate the values we cherish in our veterans community by exercising our rights and participating in the enrichment of our society. Memorial Day is another special day dedicated to the military, especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of all.
It’s vital that we dedicate time to remembering what a war really does to a country, to the families inside that country, and families separated because of a war. Last year in 2022, Army recruitment goals were not met, and they are not expected to do any better this year. This is for many reasons, but perhaps one is that these new generations have had to face the violence like in the past.
Even after WWII ended, the generation after was plagued with wars in both Vietnam and Korea. Since those active battles times America hasn’t put full military engagement in battle, either here or overseas.
There’s no argument that the absence of violence is a positive, but if the troops were called, how many would step up to fight? What would they fight for? On Veteran’s Day we have a grand chance to look to the past as a reminder that good is always what we have fought for and love is why we did it.
Inside the cover there is a note left by Catherine, “Paige, some day your parents will tell you about your great-great-grandparents and how much they loved each other, and how much they loved us. I love you. Your great grandma.”
The Hoff’s story is a special one, and it’s rare that it was recorded and shared so publicly; but it’s not an unfamiliar story to anyone who has a loved one overseas. Though the day has passed us now, please remember what they did, and why they did it. This year and next remember their stories.