Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Hero's Passing

It's Christmas Eve, 1944 or thereabouts. A fleet of transport ships has set sail on the English Channel carrying fresh troops bound for France and the European theater of allied operations during World War 2. Their mission would be to bolster allied defenses in the face of a fresh German onslaught that would later be referred to as The Battle of the Bulge. For the moment, things are not going well - not for the allies, and not for the fleet of ships now being harassed and picked off by u-boats. Aboard one of the ships, a country boy from some no-name backwoods town in upstate New York tries to tune out the cries for help coming from his fellow soldiers who were so unfortunate as to be aboard one of the sinking ships. They can't be helped - stopping would make them sitting ducks and all would be lost. It wouldn't be the first time he said goodbye in his mind to everything he knew back home, including the wife and unborn child he had left behind, and waited for his own inevitable and imminent demise.

"Any minute now," he mutters to himself as he thinks of his wife - my grandmother, and her child - my dad, for what he is sure will be the last time.

It didn't happen. Ships were sunk to the left and right, but not his. A miracle?  Perhaps .. but miracles don't usually deliver a man into the depth of horror that was western Europe at the time. Over the next few months, that simple country boy would see things and do things that no one should ever have to see or do - freezing foxholes, concentration camps, massacres, bombed out cities, and God only knows what else. He would see and inflict death more often than he could track, yet somehow manage to avoid its grasp. There were probably more than a few times when he thought those men drowning in the Channel on Christmas Eve were the lucky ones. Some of those things he would never speak of, not even to those closest to him, and the things he would be able to discuss would be the stuff of nightmares.

Finally, it was over. The war in Europe had been won, and Japan would soon surrender after witnessing devastating fury of America's newest weapon. Against all odds, grandpa came home. Back to his sleepy little hometown in upstate NY. Back to his family where he finally got to meet his son for the first time. He would never forget what he went through, and it would always be there in the back of his mind. But, he would manage. He would raise his family as best he knew how, and they would turn out ok, too. That's what he had fought for, after all. He had done his duty, and the world, for the moment, would be safe.

Grandpa liked the 2A, too!
Grandpa went on to lead a simple life after the war. Two more children would come, as would grandchildren and eventually great grandchildren. He retired long before I understood the concept, and concentrated his efforts on things he enjoyed: music, motorcycles, ham radio, etc., and he would pass those interests on to his descendants - some of whom would carry on what seems to have become a family tradition of military service as well. More importantly, he and my grandmother would pass down their values and faith. Even though it took Grandpa a long time to rediscover his faith after all he'd witnessed, he spent the latter years of his life making sure he was a blessing to others and never hesitating to share what Christ had done for him and brought him through.

On February 7, 2014, having completed 88 years on this earth, Grandpa went home to be with his savior in the manner that every soldier hopes for - in his home, at peace, and surrounded by family and loved ones. He had run the race, kept the faith, and was ready to be at rest.  His funeral was a celebration of his life, full of country music, and touching, sometimes amusing stories about the man we all love and miss. I think I was the only one who wasn't able to sing along, but that was only because I didn't know the songs - country music isn't really my "thing," you see. In fact, I had to "cleanse my brain" afterwards with some real music (see video), but that's beside the point.

Real Music, ha ha

I've posted this story for a couple of fairly simple reasons. Mainly, I want the world to know that it has lost a true hero, but the world's loss is Heaven's gain. I firmly believe that my grandfather lives on in Heaven, thanks to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and he's now more alive than we are. Secondarily, I wanted to tell a small part of his story and let the world know that I'm proud of my grandpa and grateful for his sacrifices, and those of his comrades. I hope we will all remember and preserve the faith and freedoms Grandpa and those men and women fought and died to pass on to us.

"Greatest Generation," indeed.

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