Monday, December 07, 2009

Thank you, Grandpa

On the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Houston Chronicle observes a sad fact:
The youngest of the World War II veterans are now in their 80s and it's estimated less than 1 million Pacific war combatants, primarily from the Navy and Marine Corps, are alive.
My grandfather is one of the remaining Marines who served in the Pacific theater during WWII. He's 86, very ill, and we've just been told he has a few weeks to live.

Grandpa was 17 when war broke out in the Pacific. He and his friends ran down to the recruitment office to volunteer for service. He became a navigator/bombardier on a B-25 Mitchell. We still have his certificate from bombardier school along with a photo of the handsome young Marine in his uniform.

Many years later, when I was in my 20s, Grandpa was delighted when I told him I was joining the Marines. He smiled widely as he remembered boot camp, and told me it wasn't as terrible as people think: just do what the DIs tell you and you'll be fine. He hid his disappointment when I was disqualified at MEPS for extremely poor eyesight and asthma.

He rarely talked about his service. On a few precious occasions, he would tell us grandchildren amusing little stories -- tantalizing tidbits -- about his time in the South Pacific. To him, it was a job, not heroics. When he came home after the war, he did his best to create a normal life for himself and his family. He worked decades at the same job, driving around the state selling janitorial supplies to schools. He never complained that it was a dreary, unfulfilling job. He found fulfillment in taking care of his family of six, in going to church, in volunteering his time at the local Catholic thrift store, and in skiing on the local hills and hunting on his beloved Steens Mountain.

Grandpa indulged in few luxuries. He lived in the same house for fifty years, and only changed the furniture once in all that time. Most of what he spent was for other people. When his children became teenagers, he surprised them by trading in the old family car for a new Camaro. He drove the same old truck for thirty years, but bought a new dirt bike for the grandsons to use on visits to his hunting cabin. He bought my mother a car when she was a destitute college student with two young children, and paid for my braces when I was a teenager. He never had a VCR or fancy stereo; he had the same small TV and Hi-Fi that seemed to last forever. He did surprise us once by splurging on a skiing trip to Austria, but I think that was more for my grandma than for him. Most of what he earned went into investments and savings. Over five decades, that added up to a lot: when he passes, my grandfather will leave a substantial inheritance to his children and grandchildren.

But nobody is looking forward to the inheritance. We would all rather have Grandpa. There will be one fewer Marine in the coming weeks, and it will be a terrible loss for our family.

Carnaby and I owe a lot to Grandpa, more than can be expressed in words. His sacrifices have often moved me to shame, that his generation gave so much and I have given so little. But as my father reminded me, that is precisely why they gave so much, so that their children and grandchildren could live in peace and prosperity.

Thank you, Grandpa.


Blogger Russell said...

My heart goes out to you and your family. At least, the end of the line is known, and you all can prepare before hand.

My grandpa was Navy, served in the Pacific theater during WWII. He's still alive and kicking, tough as nails and still larger than life, but he's winding down now. It's hard to watch. He has never talked to me about his experiences, just a few times to my dad (served in the Vietnam war) and my brother (active Army Captain).

He sounds much like your grandpa.

Make sure you give him a hug every time you see him.

12/08/2009 8:30 AM  
Blogger NotClauswitz said...

God bless your Grandpa. My dad is 84 and we are so happy that he's in good shape, he was a midshipman at Annapolis when the war ended - he never saw action but was in training to be a radioman in a dive-bomber.

12/10/2009 9:57 AM  
Blogger steveH said...

My father spent most of his Navy time as a corpsman assigned to Pearl Harbor Naval hospital. Never told us much of what he saw or did in service; he just did what he was called to do, and when it was done, got on with his life.

He passed away a few years ago, we still miss him a lot.

12/11/2009 8:51 PM  

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