The Identify Within the Stone
On Residing with the Lack of a Son in Wartime.
My title, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anyone else with the same identify. Stone Island Outlet I know about one other man with my identify, however we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his identify in an unusual place. That is the story of how that occurred.
It was an August Sunday in New York City in 1975. I’d decided to bicycle from my apartment on East 86th and York to Battery Park on the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since shifting to town in 1974, it appeared like a vacation spot that can be attention-grabbing. Just how attention-grabbing, I had no manner of figuring out after i left.
August Sundays in New York will be the perfect occasions for town. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their purchasers and most of the other skilled courses. The town seems nearly deserted, the site visitors mild and, as you progress down into Wall Avenue and the encompassing areas, it turns into nearly non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that kind the underside of the slender canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it continues to be cool with shade. Then you definately emerge from the streets into the vibrant open house at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue 2 tone stone island hat of Liberty. A number of individuals are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Every part is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way in which all the way down to the Battery that day since, regardless that it appears to be flat, there may be a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and acquired one of many dubious Sabaretts scorching canines and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We had been within the midst of what now may be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over all the things, thought of, in the event that they had been considered in any respect, as an irritation in that they blocked off a lot of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was nearly on the midway level between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that on the time. The only battle we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Cold Conflict. It was a summer time Sunday and we had been within the midst of what now may be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
In entrance of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught my attention. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 feet broad, 20 feet tall and 3 feet thick. From a distance you might see that they’d phrases carved into them from high to backside. There was additionally a variety of shade between them so I took my scorching dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I keep in mind that the stone was cool in opposition to my again as I sat there trying on the stone throughout from me on that warm afternoon. As I appeared up it dawned on me that the words lower into the stones had been all names. Just names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their demise in the north Atlantic in WWII. I was to learn later that there were 4,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all without any marker for their graves — except these in the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I read across several rows, shifting right to left, then down a row, and then right to left. I acquired to the end of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
In the beginning of the seventh row, I read the identify: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Lower into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.
In case you have an unusual identify, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the useless on a summer time Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t actually remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my identify was in the stone. I’d always known why, however I’d by no means recognized in regards to the stone or the names minimize into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was someone else fully. Someone who had been born, lived, and died before I was even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s middle brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide within the Second World Struggle. He was one in all their three sons. He was dead before he was 22 years old. His body never recovered, the exact time and place of his demise over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was all the time referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” shouldn’t be a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary child born after his death, I was given his identify, Gerard. But as a baby I was never known as by that identify. I used to be all the time known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. But “Jerry” I would be because the mere mention of the identify “Gerard” was enough to send my grandmother into a dark mind-set that might final for weeks. This was true, as far as I know, for all the days of her life and she lived effectively into her 80s.
My grandfather could barely communicate of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was fallacious to ask.
My father, who was refused service in the Second World Conflict because of a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the center murmur that would kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t fight and wouldn’t speak of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was an excellent, brave child.”
My uncle, the baby of the household, spent a 12 months or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that war first hand. He was my only living relative who’d been in a war. He would never communicate of his conflict at all, however it should have been very dangerous indeed.
… a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it…
I know this because, when I was a teenager, I was out in his garage at some point and, opening a drawer, I discovered an outdated packet of images, grimy with dust on the again below a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white photos with rough perforated edges showed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it, some crumpled heaps of clothes on patches of soiled snow that proved to be, on closer inspection, lifeless Korean soldiers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The full horror show.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t part with them. At the same time he couldn’t have a look at them. So he shoved them right into a drawer with different unused junk from his past and left it at that. He by no means spoke of Korea besides to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has quit speaking of anything, he never will. His only comment to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a terrific kid. You could be proud to have his name. Just don’t use it around Grandma.”
And i didn’t. No one in my family ever did. All through the years that I was growing up at home, I was “Jerry.”
In time, I left home for the University and, in the style of young men in the 1960s and since, I came upon loads of new and, to my young mind, excellent ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a name I associated for some reason with young men with crimson hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I would reject my family’s preferences and call myself by my given identify, ‘Gerard.’ Actually, in the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I would insist upon it. I duly informed my parents and would correct them when they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This angle served me effectively enough and soon it seemed I had trained my bothers and my parents in my new name. Of course, I’d taken this name not because of who my uncle had been or because of the trigger for which he gave his life, however for the egocentric cause that it merely sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a student at the University of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US army that was “brutally repressing” the people of Vietnam. We had been stupid and young and nothing that has occurred at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my era at the University just made it in some way attainable for Berkeley students to think that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure of their minds as they have been silly and egocentric in reality. I used to be now not a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I used to be going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My name change plan went effectively as long as I confined it to my instant family and my buddies on the College. It went so nicely that it made me even stupid enough to strive to extend it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their home.
In some unspecified time in the future in the course of the meal, my grandmother said something like, “Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I was a very selfish and silly younger man, I checked out her and mentioned, “Grandma, everyone here is aware of that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just acquired to get used to calling me that.”
Immediately, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the center of the table and expanded until it reached the walls and then simply dropped down over the room like a big, darkish shroud.
No one moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family came around and checked out me. Not angry, but just looking. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes were wet, rose from the table and said, “No. I can’t do that. I simply can’t.” She left the desk and walked down the hallway to her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
The silence compounded itself until my grandfather rose from his chair and walked to the middle of the hallway. He took a framed photograph off the wall where hung next to a framed gold star. It had been in that place so long that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked back to the desk and very gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a clean-confronted handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually against the fuselage of a bomber. You could see the clear plastic in the nose of the aircraft just above his head to his right. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I looked at the picture. “You are usually not Gerard. You just have his name, but you are not him. That is my son. He is Gerard. In case you don’t mind, we are going to continue to call you Jerry in this house. For those who do mind, you do not have to come here any more.”
Then he took the picture away and put it back in its place on the wall. He knocked on the bedroom door, went in, and in a few minutes he and my grandmother came back to the table. No one else had said a word. We’d just sat there. I was wishing to be just about anyplace else in the world than where I was.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you like some more creamed onions ”
I nodded, they had been passed and the meal went on. My parents never said a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit, they continued to call me Gerard. But not at my grandparents’ house.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned in opposition to a monument in Battery Park in New York and skim a reputation lower into stone amongst an inventory of the dead. That long ago Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful detail. I tried to understand what that name in the stone had meant to my family when it turned the one factor that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up within the Atlantic during a struggle that finished before I drew breath.
I tried to grasp what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, but I could not. I was a baby of the long peace who had averted his conflict and gone on to make a life that, in some ways, was spent taking-down the issues that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I was thirty then and not yet a father or mother. That would come a few years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I’d eventually start, however only begin, to grasp.
At the moment it makes me feel low cost and contemptible to consider the things I did in my youth to level out all of the ways during which this nation fails to attain some fantasied perfection. I was a small a part of promulgating an amazing fallacious and a large lie for a long time, and I’m certain there’s no making up for that. My likelihood to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the identify on the wall, has lengthy since passed and all I can do is to attempt, in a roundabout way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long Battle, I still can not declare to grasp the deep sense of obligation and the robust feeling of honor that drove males just like the uncle I’ve never known to sacrifice themselves. Currently though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World War, I believe that, finally, I can one way or the other dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to offer “the last full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, must do.
Since finding his identify on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place a lot of instances. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made a degree of going to the monument as quickly as the best way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
But for those who go the monument at present, you possibly can still see the identify in the stone. It’s not my identify, but the identify of a man much better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the best side of the monument trying in direction of the sea. The identify is normally in shadow and nearly inconceivable to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You’ll be able to see it, but you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you might be, you’re not that tall.