It was 1966 and my Dad had joined the Army in hopes of fighting for our beautiful country The USA. He was pumped to be going to Vietnam. First stop was Germany. Germany was a blast and the beer and women were endless. He was a MP for a year and came home for a quick visit and would soon be flying over to Vietnam, his dream was about to happen.
My Dad you see was one of those hell bent kinda guys that wanted to be the bad ass mother fucker to go in with guns blazing. Little did he know that my Grandmother had other plans.
While home visiting his parents on that short break in the US he received a call from a Lieutenant. The Lieutenant informed my Dad that he would be reporting for duty at a Fort in the US and would not be returning to Germany or going to Vietnam as he was the sole surviving son of a disabled veteran.
At the time my Dad’s father was sitting in a recliner right there as my Dad was listening to the Lieutenant informing him of this on the phone. His Father sitting in that recliner was not disabled at all. As my Dad began to ask questions the Lieutenant didn’t elaborate and told him to report for duty at the Fort on a certain date and hung up.
My Grandmother was crying and praying out loud as my Dad hung up the phone. She then sat my Dad down and explained how thankful she was that she had contacted the officials to inform them that his “Real Father” was a disabled veteran and he was the sole surviving son. She continued to cry explaining the story to my Dad about how she was married before and he was an alcoholic and abusive. She had to leave him to keep them safe and from harms way. She said she had to contact the officials to keep my Dad from going to Vietnam as she couldn’t bare to lose him. My Dad was in shock but never even asked where his real father was and had no interest at all in meeting him ever. He loved the father that had raised him and that’s all that mattered to him.
Two years later my Grandmother told my Dad that his “Real Father” had passed away and how she wanted him to go to his funeral which was out of state. My Dad went to pay his respects but didn’t speak to anyone at the funeral home but just signed the guest book. He looked at the man in the casket and walked away. He had no feelings whatsoever for this stranger. He was happy it was over with.
Later in life I found out about all of this and had questions. I wanted to know everything I could about my “Real Grandfather” I wanted to know his story. What happened to him later in life? What did he die from? Did he ever remarry? Why was he abusive? I wanted to know everything and anything I could. My Grandmother told me his last name but only after I begged and pleaded for days. She wouldn’t even tell me his first name. My Dad resisted the whole idea and said I was wasting my time.
When I told my Mom how I wanted to find out more about my Grandfather she told me that my Grandmother had confided in her many years ago and had probably forgotten now that she was 77 years old.
My Mom began to tell me the real story…….My Grandmother had married him, a soldier that was about to go to World War II back in 1946. She was so in love with him. He was the most handsome and charming man she’d ever met. He had Elvis’ features and adored her. He honestly loved her. My Grandma used to model hosiery in the boutique windows in town. And when he first laid eyes on her he had to meet her. He went to the local florist and bought her one red rose and went back to the boutique and introduced himself. It was literally love at first sight. They got married right before he left for the war. A few months later she discovered she was pregnant with my Dad.
She gave birth to my Dad in 1947 alone in a hospital. My “Real Grandfather” was still fighting in WWII. She went home with her newborn baby boy and about six months later some officers came to the door and told her that her husband had been in a terrible accident. His brigade had been hit hard. His body had been burned severely. He was in multiple hospitals for months and when he did come home he was barely recognizable. She welcomed him home with tears, affection and much love. He was ashamed of the way he looked, constantly in pain, and suffering mentally. He turned to alcohol and began abusing my Grandmother. She tried hard to hang in there and to endure the abuse but finally had to leave for her and my Dad’s safety. He never laid a hand on my Dad as he was approximately 8 months old when she left. She never looked back.
I’m happy that my Grandmother was strong enough to leave him and found a better life for her and my Dad. I’m extremely proud of her. I don’t understand why she never told my Dad the whole story though. She had been caught in many fabrications in her lifetime by my Dad and my Aunts. That’s neither here nor there as my Mom always says.
But, I wanted to find out more about my “Real Grandfather”. What happened to him, why did he die, what type of life did he live after she left him? Did he remarry? Did he have more children?
Again, remember, My Dad and Grandmother didn’t want me to find any information and were very uncooperative. All I had was a last name and the approximate year he died.
It was June 1998 when I began my search. Three months prior to Google, might I add. So, where to begin? I wanted the death certificate. I figured that would be a good start. So, I called Vital Records in the county/town where my Grandmother was born. They had to mail me a form to sign. I forged my Father’s name because he wouldn’t sign it. They sent me another form stating they didn’t have enough information to go on to give me a death certificate. Remember, all I had was a last name and a year that he died. I decided to write a heartfelt letter telling them the story and how I just wanted to know if I had any other relatives and what he died from. At this point even just having his first name would mean something to me. I had to find out something about this man. He fought for our country and he deserved to be known no matter what hell he put my Grandmother through.
A few days later a woman called me from Vital Records and told me she really shouldn’t be calling me but my letter spoke to her. She asked for my Dad’s name and she found his birth certificate and there was my Grandfather’s complete name on it. I would share it with you but for privacy reasons I cannot. But when she called out his name I began to cry. I’m tearing up now just thinking about it. I got chills up my spine. I finally had his first name. It was a beautiful name. She told me she was sending me the death certificate that day. Two days later I received it. He had died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was 5’11. He was divorced. He was born on the 4th of July. My heart skipped a beat. It had his Mother and Father’s names on the certificate as well. I felt a sense of pride.
I then decided to call the funeral home / cemetery that he was buried at to see if I could get some information on surviving family members. The woman there was kind enough to give me a list of pallbearers and a few relatives. Keep in mind, there’s no facebook, my space, google, bing, nothing. I somehow find addresses for some of the pallbearers and mail individual letters to each of them in hopes that they can tell me more. Two older gents were roommates in an assisted living home and received my letter. They immediately got in their car and drove to my Grandfather’s niece’s house and hand delivered my letter to her. She adored my Grandfather and was very close to him. She called one night and told me who she was and how these two gent’s brought her my letter. She cried and I cried. She told me that after my Grandmother left him that his drinking got worse. He loved my Grandmother and my Dad more than anything but the burning of his body and the alcohol got to him. She said he used to tell her “Mike’s coming to see me one day, I just know it.” She said he had an 8 X 10 picture of my Dad and my Grandma that he always kept near him. He did remarry but then divorced. She said he never had any other children. My Dad was his only child. She said he got so sick from the cirrhosis that he was in the hospital for 39 days before he passed away. She said on the 37th day a preacher came to speak with him and prayed with him. My Grandfather prayed for forgiveness and accepted Jesus Christ into his heart as his Lord and Savior. He was saved two days before he passed away. I take great comfort in knowing that he was saved as one day I will meet him in Heaven for the very first time.
His niece Kitty told me many stories about him and how he loved my father and my Grandmother more than life itself. She was kind enough to send me pictures of my Grandfather. She sent me one before he went to war. My God, he really was a handsome man. I see my Dad in his face and I even see myself. She also sent me a picture after he had been burned. She told me he had over seventy surgeries in his lifetime to help with the inflicted burns. His face didn’t look bad at all. It looked kind, weathered, and sweet. But in that one single picture of him after being burned, right behind him was that 8 X 10 of my beautiful Grandmother and my Dad as a baby. They were there all along right by his side and seeing that picture behind him I knew without any doubt he honestly loved them and never ever forgot them.
It took me over a year to find the courage to put all of this together and to show my Dad. I was afraid to show him in fact. I knew he wanted nothing to do with me finding my Grandfather’s information and he always said he didn’t want to know a damn thing about him. You see, my Grandmother didn’t tell my Dad that he was attacked in WWII and burned practically to death. I know she had to leave him. I don’t blame her one bit for that. She did what was right for her and my Dad. But, I wanted him to know that he was loved by his father that was a disabled veteran. By now my Grandmother had passed away. I waited to tell my Dad any of this out of respect for my Grandmother.
I kept copies of the death certificate, that heartfelt letter I wrote to Vital records, even the letters I mailed to the pallbearers in a folder along with my Grandfather’s two single pictures. When I presented all of this to my Dad he didn’t get angry and he didn’t fuss at me. He wept. He literally just cried and held me. When he finally gained his composure, he said to me, “You did the most beautiful thing that anyone has ever done for me. You showed me that my Dad loved me.”
This was heart wrenching for me to write. It’s extremely close to my heart and very personal.
But, it’s an honor to share my Grandfather’s story. Although he was an alcoholic and an abuser, he was a soldier first and foremost. He gave his ALL to this country and for that I admire, respect and am ever so grateful for his duty to this land of the free. He lost a lot after going to war and it changed his life in so many tragic ways.
I look forward to meeting you one day Pop in heaven. That’s what I’ve been calling you in my heart…..hope you don’t mind.