I Never Knew: A Memorial Day tribute to my husband’s grandfather



My husband’s grandfather died at the age of 81 a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, I didn’t know him very well. He lived in Tennessee. We live in Texas. Still, I remember and liked much about him. He had a funny and very dry sense of humor. He was very straightforward and generous with his time. He received his PhD from Auburn University and became a dean at Arkansas University at the age of 35. He was very involved in woodworking and made our sons a beautiful walnut bookshelf, wooden games, pens made out of wood and, for all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to share, a wooden rocking horse. He gave his time volunteering to Meals on Wheels. He also always picked us up from the airport and drove with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake.

These were the things that I knew about him.

When he died, I learned more.

Isn’t that the way it is sometimes? We learn really amazing things about individuals after they die? Things that we would have loved to have spoken to that person about, but now will never have the chance?

Only, he wouldn’t have spoken about this thing.

Some tried to get him to discuss his past where this is concerned, but he offered only a few words, if any at all.

He was a naval corpsman attached to the Marines in the Korean War.

He received a medal of honor.

And a Purple Heart.

If you are like me, you have no idea what a naval corpsman is at all. When looking up a definition to share with you all, I ran across this poem that I think sums it better than Merriam Webster could.

A Corpsman’s Prayer

Grant me, oh Lord, for the coming
Enough knowledge to cope and some plain common sense.
Be at our
side on those nightly patrols;
And be merciful judging our vulnerable
Make my hands steady and as sure as a rock;
when the others go down
with a wound or in shock.
Let me be close, when they bleed in the
With a tourniquet handy to save precious blood.
Here in the jungle,
the enemy near;
Even the corpsman can’t offer much lightness and
Just help me, oh Lord, to save lives when I can;
Because even out
there is merit in man.
If It’s Your will, make casualties light;
And don’t
let any die in the murderous night.
These are my friends I’m trying to
They are frightened at times, but You know they are brave.
Let me
not fail when they need so much;
But to help me serve with a compassionate
Lord, I’m no hero — my job is to heal;
And I want You to know Just
how helpless I feel.
Bring us back safely to camp with dawn;
For too many
of us are already gone.
Lord bless my friends If that’s part of your
And go with us tonight, when we go out again.

Author Unknown

My husband’s grandfather earned a Purple Heart because he was shot in the leg while serving on the battlefield.

He received his medal of honor for going over enemy lines in Korea to provide aid to a dying man. When he realized he was already dead, he risked his life by picking him up, taking him back to the U.S. side and ensuring that this man who gave his life for our freedom would have a proper burial.

He also received the medal of honor because he provided medical care and saved another man’s life who was able to provide the U.S. Military with critical information that, in turn, saved the lives of many, many more men and women on the battlefields of the Korean War. That man he saved was Korean. That trench he jumped into belonged to the enemy. Still, he saved him.

Time and time again he provided aid to hurting men, injured men, dying men and men that had already died. Time and time again. And again.

At the young age of 19 or 20.

How emotional that must have been. The things that he must have seen. The lives that he touched. The eyes he saw with the signs of life last.
How could he talk about that later on in life? How could he communicate the emotions that he felt? Would he even want to remember?
My own grandfather was in the navy, as well. He died when I was 2, so I certainly was never able to talk to him about his experiences. My cousin, Jason, is in the military now and will be heading to Afghanistan in September. He is near 40, but as buff and strong as a 21-year-old young man. He is excited to give his time and energy in service to our country. He wants to defend our freedom.

My cousin, Jason, all decked out in his uniform.

I know you know people like that, too. Maybe you are one of those people.

I am in awe.
I know we all are when we hear about such acts of bravery.
This weekend, I read the quote, “Men and women have given their lives for our freedom, so maybe the best way to honor them is to live life to the fullest.”
I think we can all do that.


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