The Unknown Soldier
I am older now than my father was when his father passed away. I barely remember my grandfather. I was five when he died. From the stories countless family members have told, he loved his grandkids very much, but also loved his liquor. He served in the navy during World War II and in the Army during the Korean conflict. When he returned home from duty, he worked with the United States Geological Survey on the Nevada Test Range. He was an eyewitness to countless mushroom clouds above ground and seemingly endless instrument readings below. And of course, in the end, it was cancer that did him in.
Among his children and grandchildren, he has almost a legendary rock star status. One like Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison, those that were gone before their time. It was his namesake that made us passionately proud to be Irish and to be from Colorado. My grandfather was cremated and shortly thereafter, one of my uncles took his ashes and decided to spread them around grandpa’s favorite fishing hole on the Grand Mesa in Western Colorado. This one act made him the pariah of the family for life and deprived the rest of us from saying goodbye as a family.
Almost 21 years later the first Veterans Memorial Cemetery was opened in Western Colorado. My family decided to have a memorial headstone placed. Although we know his body is not there, for the first time since his death we have a physical place to gather to commemorate and reflect upon his life. And so, on a brisk, late fall morning, my father and I decided that just the two of us would go and visit his headstone.
It was a perfect Colorado morning. Blue sky above with cirrus clouds sweeping as high as they could overhead. The leaves had all fallen off the newly planted trees and the tightly cut grass was doing its best to stay green. My dad and I had brought some tracing paper and some charcoal to try our hands at a rubbing on grandpa’s marker.
As we were kneeling in front of the headstone, both our hands touching the top of the granite I couldn’t help but reflect that this was the first time the three of us had been together in a long time. The experience that autumn morning was all the more poignant for my father who was in a sense reunited with his past with his future at his side.
After we were satisfied with a few rubbings of the stone, we stood up and I gazed toward the Grand Mesa and thanked God for my family right there under that beautiful Colorado morning sky.