09 January 2012

He would have been 95 today. . .

The shoulder patch of the long defunct 13th Airborne Division, my maternal grandfather's "outfit" during WWII.

Today would have been my maternal grandfather's 95th birthday.  Hard to believe since the image of him that I carry in my mind is of a tall, blond, soft-spoken North Carolina boy, who seemed, when I was young, to be as tall as an oak tree and strong as an ox.  

Like so many of his era, Granddaddy was involved in the Second World War, the European Theater.  Initially an anti-aircraft gunner stationed on Curacao where he defended the Dutch oils fields, he later transferred and trained as both a paratrooper and glider-borne infantry.  Scary stuff when one considers how so many similar units of troops fared during WWII when facing the enemy.  Arriving in Le Havre, France during late 1944, his new division, the 13th Airborne, never quite saw combat though it was slated to be dropped into Germany and, later, Japan.  Luckily, neither ever happened for a variety of reasons, and the men were shipped home to the United States in early 1946 where the division was demobilized.

Most of my Grandfather's history as a soldier I know from my own reading about his division or by piecing things together that others in the family have told me over the years.  Granddaddy really never talked much about his own wartime experiences.  I once asked him about a fellow in the division who was killed in a training accident, and all my grandfather said was that he had been very close by when it happened, that they had been friends, and then the subject was changed.  Somehow, I knew, even at the age of six or seven, that this was something he preferred not to discuss, and I didn't bring the subject up again.  

By and large, my grandfather and I had a good relationship, and I idolized him as a boy.  He was basically a gentle soul, who would have given you the shirt off his back if he thought it might help you somehow.  And he rarely said anything negative about anyone, or anything.  When he did, the remark was usually so understated and/or oblique that it in no way led to hostility or hurt feelings.

Once, when I was about 22, with very long, puffy 80s hair, Granddaddy and I were out together running errands for my grandmother.  We stopped by a local supermarket bakery to pick up a cake she had ordered, and the lady behind the counter at one point said to my grandfather, "Well, Grandpa, what do you think of his hair?"  Pausing for a beat or two, my grandfather chuckled quietly and replied, "Oh, let's just talk about Jesus," which elicited laughter from all three of us.

Granddaddy and I remained close until the day he died in July 2006, the night before my wife and I returned home from our honeymoon.  Not a day goes by that he doesn't cross my mind at some point.


Ross Mac rmacfa@gmail.com said...

As long as we remember them, they're not really gone.


Conrad Kinch said...

A heart warming story Stokes.


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