I got my first safety lesson at the glass bottle factory where I worked after high school; the importance of wearing eye protection and staying hydrated in the summer months. The factory was hot even in the winter months! I also learned what hard work was like at 17 and what a strong work ethic meant. I went to work there because that’s where my dad worked his whole life. It seemed appropriate to work at a company where so many other relatives worked. I didn’t become a safety professional for another twelve years.
These first safety lessons came from my Dad who was an Army veteran. He and Uncle Mike were brothers and sons of Ukrainian immigrants who fled Europe in the turmoil of WWI, “the war to end all wars.” Of all the places in the world they could have gone to, they chose America. If I could ask them “why?” today, I’m sure they would mention words like, “opportunity”, “freedom”, “work”, it would be clear in their response that they didn’t take freedom for granted. The work ethic my dad and Uncle Mike taught me came from their parents.
My Dad and Uncle Mike slogged through Europe during WWII carrying M1 Garand rifles. They served in places named Normandy, Hurtgen forest, Rhineland, Clervaux. Uncle Mike crossed the Rhine River with the 89th Infantry Division. My Dad, with the 110th Infantry Regiment, was sent to the Ardennes for some rest and was later taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. Both earned commendations for their combat service. They fought, came home after the war and restarted their life. Everyone, including those at home, sacrificed.
When either I or my brothers grumbled about going to church Sunday mornings, Dad was quick to remind us that there was a time not too long ago when he and most people in Europe didn’t have a church to go to and if they did it likely was missing a roof and walls, or pews to sit in.
They had a very clear idea of what it meant to be an American. They came together in times of need or to solve a problem. They sacrificed so much, yet didn’t complain or boast. The country expected so much, yet they asked so little. They will all be gone soon, and I wonder if enough people will remember and appreciate their sacrifices to ensure we remain a free people.
My Dad passed away in 1980. Uncle Mike passed away in 2009, less than 1 year after his wife passed away. Aunt Dorothy who was a nurse in Africa and Italy during WWII out ranked him. She was a Lieutenant and he a Staff Sargent. It was a source of laughs from time to time.
I have been in the safety profession for twenty years now and never imagined that my first safety lesson from my Dad would eventually influence my work career to this extent. As the sun sets on this greatest generation, I hope in a small way I am honoring their memories by doing my very best as a safety professional. That I am giving more than I am taking by my involvement in the profession through the American Society of Safety Engineers and by mentoring members of upcoming generations.
To all the veterans who have passed on, to those who served since and those that serve today including my son Sargent Pete Karol, I offer my heart felt appreciation and thanks. My gratitude, while coming from my heart, seems inadequate. I’m not sure I will ever truly grasp the sacrifices made on our behalf, but I will never stop trying.
Thank you Uncle Mike.