Last weekend, my grandfather passed away. He was 92. Following is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral on June 16, 2016.
As you all know the Colonel – as many people called him – wasn’t exactly what you would call a “soft and fluffy” person. He was Army all the way. No-nonsense. Tough-skinned. And he wasn’t prone to show a lot of emotion. But there was a soft side to him – buried down in there.
This is evidenced by the fact that for nearly two decades, he let me and my sister call him Bop Bop. How I came up with this particular moniker is a bit of a mystery. The theory is that in my toddler brain, I was saying “Bob, Bob.” At any rate, the name stuck. And he hated it. But here’s the thing, he could have put a quick end to it if he had wanted to. He didn’t, until Liz and I were much older. It was at that point we transitioned to Gramps – much to his relief, I’m sure.
Along with being a bit brusque on the exterior, Gramps was also…well…let’s just be honest. Gramps was stubborn. Here’s a little story that exemplifies that.
In 1939, he decided he wanted to go to the World’s Fair. He had been delivering newspapers and setting bowling pins, and he had some money. So, off he went. From New Albany, Ind., to New York. Oh, and he didn’t bother to tell anybody. He hitchhiked to Cincinnati, caught a bus to New York and then took a train to Penn Station. After he saw the fair, he hitchhiked upstate to an uncle’s, where they finally contacted his parents.
When Gramps told my wife this story, she asked if he got in trouble. He said, “No, not really. I was always a different kid. I did what I wanted to when I wanted to. That’s the way I was.” Then he said, “You know that song – I Did It My Way? That’s my theme song.”
Obviously this was a different time. Can you imagine a 16-year-old today hitchhiking to New York? We’d have Amber Alerts, panicked parents, breathless news reports. Heck, they may even call out the National Guard.
Of course…when Gramps got back, he enlisted in the National Guard. It was a fraudulent enlistment because he was only 16 or 17 at the time. He told them he was 18.
A different time indeed.
I didn’t really get to know Gramps until recently, basically over the last five or six years. We went to lunch about every other week and we would just talk. I am very thankful for those times. It’s interesting because I know he felt like the world was passing him by. Oh, he tried to keep up. He would bring these Post-It Notes folded up in his shirt pocket. He’d pull them out and unfold them and say, “Michael, I’ve got some questions for you.” Over the last couple of years, I tried to explain tweets, Facebook, how there can be picture inside a phone, how to get the picture out of the phone. BitCoin and Twerking.
Yes…I had to explain twerking to my 91-year-old grandfather.
After I stammered a little, I said it’s basically shaking your butt. He just rolled his eyes. All of you who know him well have seen the eye-roll, I’m sure.
So yeah, I think Gramps felt like the world was passing him by.
They called his generation the “Greatest Generation.” It may well have been. It weathered the depression and won WWII. Gramps was in every sense of the word, an American hero.
When I was younger, I was quite intimidated by Gramps. I knew him as the Colonel. Yeah, I called him Bop Bop, but that’s not how I related to him. In my mind he was this larger-than-life Army man. A war hero. I admired him. In fact, I was in awe of him. As you look around the room, I’m sure you get that. In many ways, the Army defined him. And this is how most of the world will remember him.
But the thing that will forever define him in my mind is different now. To me he isn’t a hero for what he did in the mountains of Italy or in the jungles of Vietnam. It’s the way he took care of my grandmother as her health failed. He cooked for her. He cleaned the house. He doted on her. Really, he did everything for her. He loved that woman to the very end – with everything he had – sacrificially.
I didn’t really get it at the time. I do now.
Yes. He served his country. That’s great, I guess. But he also served his family. He loved his wife. He loved my mother. He loved my sister. He loved his great grandkids.
He loved me.
He doesn’t get a flag, or a 21-gun salute, or the respect of a nation for that. But in my heart, I know that’s far more significant.