Grandpa Jack died late last night. He went out, like he did everything in his life, on his own terms.
He lived and died in the Midwest, and he was not someone I saw frequently, but oh, the stories I heard about and from him. And, the time I actually spent with him, did not disappoint the myths. He was a part of that generation Tom Brokaw respectfully refers to as “The Greatest Generation”, and while my grandpa would laugh and mock that title, it’s absolutely true.
If you have seen Saving Private Ryan, you know a little bit about my grandpa. He was there that morning, when those brave young men landed on the bloody beaches of Normandy. If I remember correctly, he landed on Omaha beach, and was one of the very lucky ones who survived. He continued to serve this country in the European theater for the rest of WWII, earning a passel of medals and clusters which he never even let us look at. After the surrender in the Pacific, he headed off to Korea, where he spent several years. My grandmother held the home down back in Georgia as best she could, raising three little girls that were born between Leaves.
Grandma had as many colorful names for Jack as my box of crayons, but even I could see that he was the Love of her life, despite a divorce soon after the Korean War ended. And in the short time I spent with grandpa, the affection he felt for Grandma was clear. I hope they are talking to each other right now, reminiscing and released from the earthy pains that troubled their lives.
Grandpa spent the rest of his life alone, living in the house he was born in, refusing even to have a telephone. If we wanted to check in with him, we had to call the local VFW, and they would get a message to him via a buddy. Visiting him was such a marvelous treat- he was a source of fascination and mystery, and I loved staying up late into the night listening to him talk. Once, when I was a teenager, he even went down to his basement and brought up a box of medals and commendations, and plopped them on the kitchen table. It was then that my mom and I learned he was actually the most decorated hero of war for his state- which he unceremoniously brushed off.
His one nod toward accepting the accolades he is entitled to was agreeing to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Next month, he will be awarded a full-honors military funeral, in the final resting place of the greatest men to serve and protect our freedom. My mother and both my brothers will be there, as well as my uncle and his family. I will not be able to go because of my pregnancy, but if this maybe-girl has sprouted a penis and is actually a boy, rest assured, his name will be Jack.
Grandpa, I hope you have all the answers to all the questions you ever had.