The Name In the Stone
On Dwelling with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My identify, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anyone else with the same name. I learn about one other man with my name, however we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. This is the story of how that happened.
It was an August Sunday in New York Metropolis in 1975. I’d determined to bicycle from my apartment on East 86th and York to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since moving to the city in 1974, it appeared like a vacation spot that could be fascinating. Simply how fascinating, I had no method of understanding once i left.
August Sundays in New York will be the best occasions for town. The psychotherapists are all on trip — as are their shoppers and most of the opposite skilled lessons. Town appears almost deserted, the visitors mild and, as you move down into Wall Road and the surrounding areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that type the underside of the slim canyons of buildings the place, even at mid-day, it remains to be cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the shiny open area at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A couple 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. Everything is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way down to the Battery that day since, although it appears to be flat, there is a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and got one of the dubious Sabaretts hot dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.
We were in the midst of what now could be seen as “The Long Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over all the pieces, thought of, if they were thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about at the midway point between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The only conflict we knew of was the Second World Battle and the background humm of the Cold War. It was a summer Sunday and we were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”
In front 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 ft extensive, 20 toes tall and 3 feet thick. From a distance you would see that they’d phrases carved into them from top to bottom. There was also a whole lot of shade between them so I took my hot dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the many monoliths.
I remember that the stone was cool towards my back as I sat there looking at the stone across from me on that warm afternoon. As I appeared up it dawned on me that the words cut into the stones were all names. Simply names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their loss of life within the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to learn later that there were 4,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all without any marker for their graves — except those in the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up around me.
I learn throughout several rows, transferring proper to left, then down a row, and then proper to left. I got to the end of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
At the start of the seventh row, I read the name: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Reduce into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
You probably have an unusual name, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the dead on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t actually remember the feeling except to know that, for many lengthy moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I’d always known why, but I’d never known about the stone or the names cut into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was another person totally. Someone who had been born, lived, and died earlier than 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 in the Second World War. He was certainly one of their three sons. He was dead earlier than he was 22 years previous. His physique by no means recovered, the precise time and place of his adidas stone island trainers demise over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was all the time known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the first baby born after his demise, I was given his name, Gerard. But as a child I used to be by no means known as by that identify. I was all the time known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” just isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. But “Jerry” I would be because the mere mention of the name “Gerard” was enough to ship my grandmother right into a darkish mind-set that may final for weeks. This was true, as far as I do know, for all the days of her life and she lived well into her 80s.
My grandfather could barely speak of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was improper to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Conflict as a result of a bout of rheumatic fever as a child that left him with the heart murmur that may kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t battle and wouldn’t communicate of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an awesome, brave kid.”
My uncle, the baby of the family, spent a year 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 conflict. He would never communicate of his battle at all, but it surely must have been very bad 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 in the future and, opening a drawer, I found an outdated packet of images, grimy with dust at the back under a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white photos with rough perforated edges showed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot filled with holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothing on patches of dirty snow that proved to be, on closer inspection, dead 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 look at them. So he shoved them into a drawer with other 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 stop talking of anything, he by no means will. His solely remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a fantastic kid. You could be proud to have his name. Just don’t use it around Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. Nobody in my household ever did. All via the years that I was rising up at home, I was “Jerry.”
In time, I left dwelling for the University and, in the manner of young men in the 1960s and since, I came upon lots of recent and, to my young mind, wonderful ideas. A minor one of those 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 name, ‘Gerard.’ In fact, within the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I would insist upon it. I duly informed my mother and father and would right them once they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This attitude served me well enough and soon it seemed I had educated my bothers and my dad and mom in my new identify. Of course, I’d taken this title not because of who my uncle had been or because of the trigger for which he gave his life, but for the egocentric reason that it simply sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I was 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 individuals of Vietnam. We were stupid and young and nothing that has occurred at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If anything, my era at the University just made it somehow possible for Berkeley students to suppose that their attitudes have been as noble and as pure of their minds as they have been stupid and egocentric in reality. I was now not a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I was going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My identify change plan went properly so long as I confined it to my speedy family and my pals at the University. It went so well that it made me even stupid enough to try to extend it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their dwelling.
At some point throughout the meal, my grandmother said one thing like, “Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
And since I was a very selfish and stupid young man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everyone here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve simply received to get used to calling me that.”
Instantly, the silence got here into the room. It rose out of the middle of the desk and expanded until it reached the walls and then just dropped down over the room like a large, dark shroud.
Nobody moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family came around and looked at me. Not angry, but simply wanting. 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 just can’t.” She left the table 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 the place hung next to a framed gold star. It had been in that place so lengthy that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked back to the table and very gently handed me the photograph. It showed a smooth-faced handsome younger flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather-based flying jacket and leaning casually towards the fuselage of a bomber. You would see the clear plastic in the nose of the plane 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 checked out the image. “You usually are not Gerard. You simply have his title, however you are not him. That is my son. He is Gerard. For those who don’t mind, we will continue to call you Jerry on this home. When you do thoughts, you wouldn’t have to return 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 got here again to the desk. No person else had stated a phrase. We’d simply sat there. I used to be wishing to be nearly anyplace else on this planet than where I was.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you want some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My parents never said a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit, they continued to name me Gerard. But not at my grandparents’ home.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned against a monument in Battery Park in New York and skim a reputation lower into stone among a listing of the dead. That long ago Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful detail. I tried to grasp what that title in the stone had meant to my household when it turned the one factor that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up in the Atlantic during a war that finished before I drew breath.
I tried to understand what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and mother and father, but I could not. I used to be a child of the long peace who had avoided his war and gone on to make a life that, in many ways, was spent taking-down the things that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I was thirty then and not yet a dad or mum. That would come a few years later and, with the start of my daughter, I’d ultimately begin, but only begin, to understand.
At present it makes me feel cheap and contemptible to think of the things I did in my youth to point out all of the methods wherein this nation fails to achieve some fantasied perfection. I was a small part of promulgating a great flawed and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m positive there’s no making up for that. My chance to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the name on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to try, in some way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long War, I still cannot declare to know the deep sense of responsibility and the strong feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never known to sacrifice themselves. Currently though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World War, I feel that, ultimately, I can someway dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to give “the last full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, will have to do.
Since finding his name on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place quite a lot of occasions. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made some extent of going to the monument as soon as the way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
But if you go the monument right this moment, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the title within the stone. It’s not my name, but the name of a man much better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the right facet of the monument wanting in the direction of the sea. The title is often in shadow and virtually impossible to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You can see it, but you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you are, you’re not that tall.
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