Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Shoebox Full of Photos

I lost my grandfather last week. It wasn't especially jarring or anything; he had been in poor health for some time. Everyone was expecting it. Nor was it especially tragic, since he lived a full life marked with success, and reared four fine boys who all grew up to become successful in various ways by their own right. And, of course, one of those boys grew up to become Noted Marquette Alumnus Denbo, to whom I, in part, owe my existence.

Likewise, there were no great lessons in Perspective or Love or the Value of Life for me to glean from his death. If you've been paying attention over the past few months, I've already passed that course.

KAR is not a personal ThunderJournal, so I won't go into the personal memories or gauzy reminiscences that such occasions would normally elicit. You never met my grandfather, nor would you care about all the vacations, card games and other mental artifacts. And I wouldn't blame you.

But now that I am entering the fourth paragraph of this post, you probably suspect that there might be some other point for bring this up. Your suspicions are about to pay off.

About 10 years ago, one of my uncles produced a shoebox (possibly more than one) and some albums filled with pictures of my grandfather and our family. We were putting together a slideshow video to mark his and my grandmother's 50th wedding anniversary. Among the hundreds of photos was this one, that knocked me out of my chair:

That's him in the top row behind the flag, second from the left.

(And I cannot let this pass without mentioning that the first comment someone present made after unearthing this picture was "...And here's a picture of Grandpa from back when he was a Nazi." Yes, I'm not the only one like me in my family.)

He lied about his age to get into the Army during WWII. The Army assigned him to a Ranger division, and he was among the brigades that landed at Point du Hoc on D-Day. The stories he told were gripping. He told about scaling the cliffs there - one hand on the rope, the other firing blindly in the general direction of "up" toward the Germans above, who were just as blindly dropping grenades down on him.

Happily, he was one of the few who made it to the top alive.

Most people will leave behind a shoebox full of pictures to remind subsequent generations of their mark upon the world. But for a precious few - whose numbers are dwindling rapidly - the world itself is the evidence for the mark they left on it.

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