He was twelve years deep when Pearl Harbor was hit and, fortunately, his boat, the U.S.S. Ellet, was out on patrol when it was. He was there a few days later and saw the wreckage. “A pile of junk!” he told me, “It was all going to be mothballed anyway. We knew they were coming.”
Grandpa went on to fight in some major battles—none of which he told me about, I only learned about them after he died. The man would give you the most detailed directions to the gas station but only once told me about the time he saw a test detonation of an atomic bomb. He never mentioned going behind enemy lines in perfect radio silence to help launch the legendary Doolittle Raid or the time he was at a little battle called Midway.
When I learned about that one I picked up a book about the subject and was pleased to learn the aircraft carrier his destroyer shielded, the U.S.S. Enterprise, was instrumental in the battle. Later I tracked down a man who served with my grandfather on the Ellet and called him. I damn near cried when he told me, “When I knew your grandfather aboard The Ellet he was the Chief Boatswains Mate. I remember him very well because he was one of the kindest gentleman I met during my four years on the Ellet.”
Grandpa went on to become a Chief Warrant Officer, which, I believe, is the top rank someone can achieve without attending the Academy. A friend of mine who went to military school told me, “That’s the equivalent of Top Sergeant in the Army. They are the guys you want to be around when the bullets start flying because they know what to do.” Not bad for a guy who dropped out of school in the 8th grade.
Because of his Navy and Electric Boat pensions, Grandpa had a comfortable retirement and, although he lead a modest life with my grandmother, I grew up thinking he was one of the richest men in the world.
While he was a thrifty German to the core, he was generous to those he loved. Before I graduated from high school he told me he would pay for my college education if I opted to go. I did back when tuition at the University of New Hampshire was $8,000 a year and Grandpa paid for all four years for both me and my brother. Not sure I would have gone if not for him and my professional career was effectively launched by him and funded by the Navy.
We lost Grandpa in 2009 and he was buried with full military honors. Although I would never would wish it on anyone, military funerals are one of the most deeply effecting experiences you can attend.
At the close of the ceremony, two officers fold up the flag, walk over and solemnly hand it to the next-of-kin, in this case, my mother. The soldier delivering it looked deep into my mom’s eyes and said something that had the emotional power of a fist on an egg. I don’t remember the words exactly but I remember bursting into tears so hard I was embarrassed. When the bugle plays taps, forget it, you are done. If there is one thing the military knows how to do, it is conduct a funeral that will leave you emotionally overwhelmed.
In short, my grandfather was a role model and, quietly, a badass. The Navy shaped him into the man he was—a resolute man of honor with a good heart.
Thank you for your service, veterans. Today is your day.