Proud father and grandfather. Faithful Husband. U.S. Marine. Veteran of the Second World War. I know Veteran’s Day has come and gone but, Grandpa, I salute you. Sixteen years gone…but never forgotten.

I was there when you took your last breath. Do you remember, Grandpa? We were all there, gathered around your bedside in the Emergency Room as your tired, old heart just gave out. You’d been living on sheer will-power for a long time. You wanted to reach eighty years of age…and you made it! But not even your iron will and your love of family could completely trump a tired ticker. You’d been sedated and intubated against your will. Your heart had stopped. But you were still alive. “We’re all here, Grandpa.” I said and listed all our names. You heard. I know you heard.

Then my uncle said the words I’ll never forget. “It’s okay, Dad,” he said in a voice broken by tears. “You can go.” The perfect words at the perfect time. You were hanging on for us. Your beloved family and the grandchildren you were so proud of.

But you did go. When he gave you permission your head rocked to your left…and you were gone.

Gone…but never forgotten.

Born in the 1920s, you were the middle child of huge family of boys…and only two girls. Your sister raised you. Your Mom was too busy cooking, cleaning and being pregnant to pay much attention to any one child. Sometimes she fine combed your hair so roughly, it left scabs. But you bore her no ill-will.

Remember her stainless steel cooking spoon? I still have it…all lopsided and worn away on one side from the many thousands of meals she stirred to keep her huge brood fed.

World War II came just as you reached manhood. You didn’t wait to be drafted. You talked it over with your father and then enlisted in the Marines. To your dying day, every time you heard the Marine Hymn you struggled out of your recliner, stood at attention and solemnly saluted.

From your boyhood, you’d always loved airplanes. “Whenever a plane flew over the fields,” you said, “we boys watched it from horizon to horizon.” Unfortunately, the dream of being a pilot evaporated because of your hearing problems, so you chose the next best thing: working as a mechanic to keep those babies in the skies.

You told some stories about Basic Training. You told how a training plane crashed, killing all aboard, in full view of every man on base. Instantly, every plane was sent aloft before the fear of flying could set in. You used to chuckle about flying over the nudist beaches, against regulations. And there was a story about being put on KP duty as punishment for unknowingly violating the rules by wearing your flight jacket in the mess hall. But you were rescued from peeling potatoes when they found out…you were a High School graduate and could type! Instead of spuds, they punished you with office work!

So it was that a country boy from a tiny town found himself sailing across the Pacific after Basic Training. You were in the second wave to hit the beaches as the Marines island hopped, driving the forces of Emperor Hirohita off each island. Even though the first wave of Marines “cleared” each island, still you were not safe. One night one of the over-looked enemies drove a spear through the side of your tent and straight into a soldier’s cot. But the Good Lord was looking out for that man; he was elsewhere that night.

How you loved telling about a plane that got its machine guns out-of-sync. Instead of being timed perfectly to shoot between the whirling blades, it shot right through its own propeller. Well, all the mechanics put their heads together and came up with a solution. Replace the damaged propeller blade? Hell no! They sanded that hole down ’til it was glass smooth. It worked too! “But,” as you always said with a chuckle, “that plane always had a funny kind of a whistle.”

Returning home after your five-year enlistment expired, you divided your time between cool Northern climes in the Summers and warm Western climes in the Winters. And you still loved planes! They became your vocation.

You were in your mid-thirties when you married. Not that you ever made your intentions clear. Showing emotion was never your strong suit.

You eloped. No one’s ever really said why. But damn! You looked so young, so shy and so handsome in your hand-colored wedding picture. You were always so handsome. I wish I had a picture of you.

Like all fathers during the fifties, you weren’t allowed into the delivery room when your children were born. And for being an unemotional guy, you let it be known loudly and often that you deeply regretted not seeing your children born. How sweet!

Unfortunately, you could also be pretty cranky sometimes. Fortunately, you were usually right in your observations about other people. And you loved to argue and debate with your brothers!

You were raised without affection, without love, without a relationship with your parents. You called your Dad “The Foreman.” He deserved it. Like Captain von Trapp, he’d line up his kids for inspection each week.

But your wife softened you. She taught you how to love, how to hug.

There were two things you hated: lies and gossip. You weren’t a liar. You weren’t a gossip.

But you were the brunt of gossip. You knew it and it hurt you. Where you and your wife should’ve been close, she substituted her children in a classic case of covert incest and triangulation. It really wreaked havoc on your relationship with your kids, something you already found challenging. Small wonder you spent so much time working on the lawn or happily inventing in your garage. You even got paid for your inventions!

I wish you could’ve met my husband. You would’ve gotten along splendidly. You’re two peas in a pod. You two would’ve had a blast inventing, talking, puttering in the garage. He served too. He loves aviation too, but his dreams of being a pilot were dashed too. Your ears let you down; his eyes let him down.

Do you remember that special thing only you and I share, Grandpa? Yep, despite having children and grandchildren, the first and last diaper you ever changed was mine. I was only a month old and you were babysitting me. Fearing I’d develop diaper rash, well, you met the challenge bravely.

There was only one problem. You had the most sensitive stomach on the planet. One whiff of that messy diaper and you almost threw up. Your facial expressions must’ve been priceless because I laughed and laughed and laughed! “It’s not funny, Lenora!” you remonstrated. But newborn me thought it was hysterical.

You got my first laugh. I’m so happy about that!

As more grandchildren came along, you enjoyed them endlessly. Babysitting was a joy to you. You were always buying little bikes on garage sales and fixing them up. Happily whistling through your teeth. I do it when I’m happy too and think of you. But you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, Grandpa. Even the melody of Happy Birthday was all over the place when you sang it. But you always sang anyways! I loved your singing!

And you taught us those special things. How to politely say that we’d had enough to eat:

“Thank you, but my sufficiency has been suffoncifated. Any more would be obnoxious to my statidious tastes.”

Somehow, I don’t think those were exactly the right words. But that’s how we all learned it.

Then there were those special names for our fingers:

“Thumbagut, Slickaput, Longemon, {can’t remember} and Little Peter Yohnson.”

And of course, the colors of the rainbow. “Roy G. Biv: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.”

The finger waves you pressed into your hair with VO5 were always perfect and brown ’til the day you died. You always had a pocket protector with your glasses, pens, tiny ruler and I-know-not-what. I guess maybe you were a geek! And you wore white shirts, perfectly ironed with a crease, and dress pants every single day, even to mow the lawn. Oh, that lawn. Like green velvet. And your tomato plants were six feet tall if they were an inch! But you just couldn’t stop trimming the trees and bushes. It was the Scandinavian in you!

And when there was a real opportunity to dress-up in your suit with your tie-pin. Wow! You always looked amazing.

Til the day you died, you were so proud of your good-looking feet. “Showroom feet” you called them. A mere twelve hours before you died, you leaned over to admire your own feet. It’s the stuff of legends.

Unfortunately, narcissism intruded even into your funeral service. I don’t want to go into it. Maybe someday I’ll say what was done…but not today. This is about you, Grandpa.

I wore black when you died. Devastated. Grieving. I just couldn’t believe you were…gone. I wept during the funeral and when the honor guard played Taps I sobbed.

Even in your death, there was a moment of humor. Your brother asked for your custom-made VA hearing aid. Yes, the one molded specifically for your ear. Like all of your brothers, he was so cheap. “It’ll fit,” he said. “We were brothers.”

I wonder what you’d say if you knew the family completely fell apart two months after your death. Triangulation, gossip and Golden Child VS Scapegoat ripped it to shreds. Greed may have had something to do with it too. I dunno. Did you see that coming? I certainly didn’t.

I miss you, Grandpa. You were a class act. You were proud of all your grandchildren…just because we existed. You loved all your grandchildren…just because we existed. We didn’t have to perform. Didn’t have to impress. Unconditional love. And guess what!? We all turned out fine! Hard-working, upstanding members of the community. Not one rotten egg in the batch!

May we be as faithful, courageous and patriotic to the very end as you were.

Happy (Late) Veterans Day, Grandpa. Semper Fi.