Our editor, Nathan Orme, frequently reminds us to keep the columns we write related to something we cover, have experienced or feel strongly about. My thoughts are kind of flighty right now and not well managed, but I knew this moment was coming — it’s been brewing since June.
Faithful readers of Harry Spencer’s column in Saturday’s paper read last week about how much he enjoyed wearing his government-issue paratrooper boots. Something I doubt fellow soldiers would put much thought into unless reminded, but a detail that Spencer clearly did not forget.
In Sunday’s paper, readers learned about the work of the Veterans Guest House in Reno and looked at photos taken by Tribune staff during the Reno and Virginia City parades honoring the men and women who have served in our nation’s armed forces.
My grandpa was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. He served in the Navy. His ship was never bombed, at least not that he spoke about. He never shot anyone, that he told us about. And the only item he would let me touch was his government-issue deep-blue belt.
Since June, there have been moments of remembrance. Those moments when you flip through old photos and catch a glimpse of grandpa wearing his white hat and blue Navy suit, which is black in the photos, of course. He wasn’t a big man, that I remember, but then again as I was growing taller, he always would say he was shrinking. He had jet black hair, until one day — in one day — it turned grey, and piercing blue eyes that faded to an intense aqua color with age.
In all the years that my family and I have lived in northern Nevada, we have never attended a Veterans Day parade. In my 25 years, I have never heard my grandpa talk about his military service other than to say that was what you did in his day: You served in the military, fought for your country, came home and started a family, which he did.
It doesn’t matter if I have questions now, some of which I have wanted to ask for years, if only he would answer them. My grandpa died on June 30, almost three years after age slowly took his memory and his ability to communicate. My grandparents would have been married 65 years this month.
I understand that my grandpa’s silence about his military service is not necessarily uncommon, but now I don’t have the ability to ask him or learn about him. Those days are gone.
As I placed the pictures on the Sunday paper’s pages, all I could see was my grandpa in his Navy suit. It hasn’t happened since June 30 — our family is a group of stoic people — but the tears fell down my cheeks. I don’t know why it is so tough to say, but damn, I miss my grandpa. The witty man who could tell the same story 100 times and still make it feel like the first. The man who cooked the best turkey soup the day after Thanksgiving. The man who would take me fishing at a stream with nothing more than a hook on a string and the belief that I would catch something.
Maybe it is better that I don’t know the stories behind the fading photographs crammed into boxes at my grandma’s house. In my mind he can always be a hero. I don’t need the details.
Cortney Maddock is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org