Thursday, May 5, 2011

Taps for Final WWI Veteran

News of the last WWI veteran's passing at the astounding age of 110 brought back memories of my grandfather and a post I wrote for Veterans' Day in 2008. Additionally, my father was a WWII vet. He's now 84, and was recently flown to Washington D.C. to see the WWII Memorial and to be honored for his service. They're getting up in years, too. Here is that post reproduced.

I sent off an email to family members asking if they could make it Saturday for Abby's 8th birthday and was reminded that today was November 11th, Veteran's Day. It was cause for memories.

I remember staying with Nana at her home in Appleton shortly after Grandpa's death at the age of 82. It was September 1978 or so. Nana and I were foraging through some items when I found an old uniform. I asked Nana if this was Grandpa's. She said it was his WWI uniform and beckoned to me to try it on. It was a little tight, but it fit! I was 22 at the time and pretty skinny. It was cool to know that my Grandpa and I were about the same size back in our youth. (The picture on the left is of Grandpa in his uniform around 1930.)

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents as a child. My Dad was working hard to feed a growing family (it would become five eventually). We (usually Kelly and I) would often stay with Nana and Grandpa for a week or so at a time during the summer.

I didn't mind. I loved visiting. I enjoyed puttering in the backyard with Nana, picking raspberries, blueberries, apples, pears, dodging the bees, etc. The gathered fruits would later become the filling for pies; the aroma of these just-baked pies filling the house and wafting out the backdoor to the yard where I could be found building miniature cities with hand-smoothed expressways in the gravel driveway.

I remember evenings sitting on the floor in front of Grandpa's lap. He'd peel apples. It was a wondrous experience for the grandkids, watching Grandpa maintain one - long - continuous - peel. Then he'd present slices to each of us kids from the flat side of the paring blade.

I especially liked going with Grandpa to the driving range to practice hitting golfballs. He was an excellent golfer. He had seven hole-in-ones (I've had one, using an old iron of his) and he shot a 79 at Reid Municipal Park in Appleton at the age of 79. Pretty remarkable.

I'd also go out with Grandpa on the course. I was his caddy until my teen years. I had a blast with Grandpa's old buddies and on occasion was even allowed to hit a golfball.

Even when I was finally allowed to golf, Grandpa insisted I never keep score. Nonetheless, in my adult years it's been a goal of mine to break 80. I've hit 80 six times, but have never made it past. I once needed only to bogey the last hole do break 80. It's been a source of frustration. Grandpa must have known something.

Grandpa's service for our nation consisted of being drafted in September 1918. He trained in Alabama and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in December 1918. He never made it to Europe to actually fight in the war-to-end-all-wars and was discharged in in early 1919.

His only child, my Dad, enlisted in the Marines in January 1945 at the age of 17. He trained in the Carolinas and then transferred to California. In October 1945 he sailed from Washington; visiting Japan and the Philippines. He was discharged in 1947.

He later decided to joined the priesthood. Fortunately he changed his mind before his final vows; I'm thankful for obvious reasons.

Over the years I've tried in my own way to fill my Dad's shoes, though I've insisted I wasn't. We've clashed as Son and Dad often do. I'm sad to say that our relationship has not always been the best.

Recently, I sent an email to him asking he stop sending me any more of those thoroughly debunked anti-Obama emails that were cruising the Internet. After explaining how this latest email was false, I asked whether he had any sense and would he please stop or I would have to block his emails. I wish I had not done that.

Earlier this summer while tossing a ball around with my Son, I noticed how difficult it was to throw with any sort of pace. The distance I could throw a ball had also diminished. But I kept at it even though I knew I would be sore the next day. I thought of my Dad then. He used to set up as catcher and let me throw fastball after fastball. They were not very fast. I tried out for Little League and the first pitch I threw was hit over the centerfield fence. But Dad kept catching and encouraging.

So I keep catching and running after my Son's errant throws. I help him with his homework and I try not to take it personally when he argues with me or gets sullen, as teenagers are wont to do regardless of the generation.

I've been a fortunate person. I had the chance to know my Grandpa and had a Dad who worked and stuck around to care for his family. There are too many children missing that. Because of their efforts, I've turned out fairly all right. I have three kids now. In addition to my teenage boy, I have two beautiful daughters, a wonderful wife, a home -- a great family.

I wonder if my Dad has an old uniform lying around? Despite our differences, I bet we were about the same size once, too, in our youth.

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