On Memorial Day, my 90-year-old grandfather was honored in a beautiful ceremony at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri for his service in the military in WWII as the captain of an LSM 335. This is the story of his special day.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from work who is a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) asked if I thought my grandfather would be interested in being honored for his military service at a ceremony for veterans put on by the CAR (Children of the American Revolution) on Memorial Day. She said that he would have a few minutes to talk and tell a story. I said that I would have to ask him. I had no idea if he would be interested or not.
Of course, I should have known right away that he would agree. My grandpa will jump at any opportunity to speak in front of a captive audience. He is a former politician after all. The first thing he asked me when I called him was, “Will I be able to talk for an hour?” I laughed and said no, just for a few minutes. Two hours later I had an email from him in which he had drafted a speech and he wanted to know what I thought.
After he committed to the event, I thought it would be fun to make a day of the whole thing and decided to take him out to dinner and for ice cream after the event. My grandpa and I go out to dinner together about once every couple of weeks. I will drive to his house and pick him up. We always have a lot of fun. His only rule is that I have to take him somewhere different every time.
I then decided that it would be fun to invite my whole family and surprise my grandpa with them in the crowd at the ceremony. I emailed aunts, uncles, cousins, my sister and parents with details about the day. Everyone agreed to meet at the Liberty Memorial.
Memorial Day was hot and humid. But that didn’t detract from the day or from the ceremony. My grandpa and I, along with the other attending members of our family and guests, lined up behind the members of the CAR, DAR and SAR (Sons of the American Revolution) who were dressed in their Color Guard garb, complete with flags, banners, drums and muskets (fake ones). We followed them up to the Liberty Memorial where they led us in reciting their code, ‘The Pledge of Allegiance,’ and a few songs.
Then my friend introduced my grandfather and he got to do his favorite thing, talk in front of a crowd of people. He told numerous stories about the places he visited, the ships he sailed on and the experiences he had. I requested that he specifically tell the story about how he became a captain. This is my favorite story and I thought that everyone present would enjoy hearing it. He happily obliged.
I will share that story with you too so that you can enjoy it. My grandpa tells it much better, but here is the gist of it. At the age of 22, my grandfather had already spent 2 years in the Navy. Because the other ships were not built shallow enough, they were going to utilize a different style of ship with a flatter shape for various duties. The LSMs. My grandfather was being transferred to serve on one of the LSMs. Prior to the launching, he was in a meeting with a number of other sailors. One of the men in charge explained that they were going to fill 4 roles on each ship and asked every man what role he wanted. When he asked my grandpa, he replied, “Captain!” The man in charge gave him a funny look because of his age, but captain he became!
I think I love this story because it showcases a politician-like confidence that he obviously had, even at the age of 22. Not many people have that confidence ever in their lives. He still is like that today. I can just picture him standing there telling this guy he wants to be captain. He probably towered over him too. At 6’4″, my grandpa is really tall for his generation.
After my grandfather finished talking, my friend Susan and another DAR lady came forward. Susan told me the week before that she had a special surprise planned for my grandpa; but she wouldn’t tell me what it was. The other lady who stood next to her turned out to be in charge of a nonprofit organization called ‘Quilts of Valor.’ They present beautiful quilts to veterans and welcome them home.
Together they unfolded a beautiful quilt and presented it to my grandfather, thanked him for his service and officially welcomed him home. Inside the quilt was a little tag that listed his name, branch of service, years of service and a welcome home message. It was a really moving moment and I had trouble managing my tears. It was especially wonderful because, according to one of my aunts, my grandfather had never been officially recognized for his military service before.
After the ceremony, everyone wanted to talk to my grandpa about his service in the military and other life experiences. They welcomed him home and thanked him for his service numerous times. Many people also talked to him about their own experiences in the military. I know he loved every minute of it.
When my grandfather tired of chatting, we packed up in my car and drove to meet the rest of our family at the restaurant. Anytime my family gets together, a good time is a guarantee. There are a lot of us, we’re loud and we love to eat and drink. We scrunched together at a long table and entertained ourselves and just celebrated my grandfather’s day.
After ice cream at Baskin Robbins (my grandpa’s and my favorite ice cream place), my grandpa and I got back into my car and I took him home. Once we got to his place, I got him settled and unloaded my car. He insisted that I spread his quilt out on his couch so he and everyone else could see it.
I’ve always known that my grandpa was special. This day allowed me to show everyone else how special he is and so that they can appreciate him for who he is and the life he has lived. This is something I think about every time we sit down to dinner together.
When things were all in order, I turned to say goodbye and leave. My grandpa thanked me for a great day and told me that this was his best Memorial Day ever. I think it will be my best Memorial Day ever too.