July 13, 2009 by David Gillaspie
A fine couple booked a few nights at DG’s B&B last week. It was an anniversary.
“I come from a big family, an Iowa farm family,” the woman said. “We took family vacations to places you’ve heard about. One year it was Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. My father wouldn’t go in. Mom took us through; telling us it was all okay.”
Her dad wasn’t afraid of anything. He bootstrapped his way up, but anything about caves lost his interest. No one knew why and no one asked.
Years later in a Washington state hospital her dad woke up from treatment after a fourth heart attack. He saw an Asian nurse in the room, but not his daughter and her oldest son who sat at the foot of his bed.
“You’ve so good. So nice. I’m sorry for what we did to your people,” he said.
He told about his time in the Philippines, what a beautiful island it was. Then he told about the caves.
The old soldier ran a flame thrower in the Philippines. After he went in, no one came out. His daughter listened, putting together what she already knew with what she was hearing. His grandson sat quietly.
“If we didn’t clear the caves we knew the enemy would come back on us. It was war at its worst. Awful. But going into the caves was my job.”
The sedatives wore off slowly and he eventually focused on who was in the room with him and changed the subject.
Time passes and kids grow up. Grandpa made it back to Iowa and more adventures before his world gathered at his funeral. It was an entire world because people with the thinnest string attached to him showed up, along with those who’d been with him in the war. He was a man who pulled everyone together and carried them.
The man who wasn’t afraid of anything really wasn’t. Life and death were all part of the cycle. Caves meant one thing to him and he wouldn’t talk about it. Heat. Smell. Right and wrong. He knew he did the right thing, but it was wrong to expect anyone not there to understand.
His daughter’s youngest son listened to the older men talk about his Grandpa. He logged it all in and embarked on a thirteen year old’s mission to know as much about WWII as there was to know.
Men like his grandfather went to war and followed orders. Some came back, many didn’t. The men talking knew plenty who didn’t. What his grandpa did in the war made sure more came home than would have if he didn’t go into the caves.
If there’s such a thing as ‘family lessons’ we need do only one thing: take time to listen. It’s not easy, but it is a tribute to the heritage left by those who did, and those who still do what it takes to save the rest of us.
Those men came home with the effects of war in their mind. They are The Greatest Generation because they knew what they did had a greater purpose. A sense of greater purpose in life is a gift, but it takes a careful listener to gather it all in.
Jordan is a listener.