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 by no means met anybody else with the identical title. I find out about one different man with my title, however we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his identify in an unusual place. That 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 condo 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 shifting to the town in 1974, it appeared like a vacation spot that can be attention-grabbing. Simply how attention-grabbing, I had no approach of realizing after i left.
August Sundays in New York may be the perfect occasions for town. The psychotherapists are all on trip — as are their purchasers and most of the opposite professional courses. The town seems nearly deserted, the site visitors gentle and, as you move down into Wall Road and the encircling areas, it turns into just about 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 brilliant open house at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A number of persons are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Every little thing 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 seems to be flat, there’s a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and bought one of the dubious Sabaretts hot canine and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We have been within the midst of what now might be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over every thing, thought of, if they had been thought of at all, 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 one battle we knew of was the Second World Battle and the background humm of the Cold Conflict. It was a summer season Sunday and we had been in the midst of what now might be seen as “The Long Peace.”
In front of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught my consideration. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 feet broad, 20 ft tall and 3 feet thick. From a distance you could possibly see that that they had words carved into them from high to bottom. There was additionally loads 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 remember that the stone was cool in opposition to my back as I sat there trying on the stone throughout from me on that warm afternoon. As I regarded 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 used to be to be taught later that there were 4,601 names. Stone Island Online All misplaced within 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 across a number of rows, moving right to left, then down a row, after which right to left. I received to the top of the sixth row and went again to the start of the seventh row.
In the beginning of the seventh row, I learn the identify: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My title. Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.
If you have an unusual name, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the useless on a summer season Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t actually remember the feeling besides to know that, for a lot of long moments, I turned chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my title was within the stone. I’d at all times recognized why, however I’d by no means recognized in regards to the stone or the names reduce into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was someone else entirely. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died before I used to be even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s middle brother. He was what my household had given to cease Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide within the Second World Struggle. He was one in all their three sons. He was useless earlier than he was 22 years previous. His physique by no means recovered, the precise time and place of his loss of life over the Atlantic, unknown.
I used to be all the time known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” shouldn’t be a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary youngster born after his loss of life, I used to be given his title, Gerard. However as a toddler I used to be by no means referred to as by that identify. I used to be at all times known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” just isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that title. However “Jerry” I could be as a result of the mere point out of the title “Gerard” was sufficient to ship my grandmother right into a darkish mind-set that will final for weeks. This was true, so far as I do know, for all the times of her life and she lived effectively into her 80s.
My grandfather may barely communicate 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 Struggle resulting from a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the center murmur that may kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t battle and wouldn’t communicate of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was an important, brave child.”
My uncle, the child 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 battle first hand. He was my only dwelling relative who’d been in a battle. He would by no means converse of his warfare in any respect, nevertheless it will need to have been very dangerous certainly.
… a helmet shot filled with holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it…
I do know this because, when I was a teenager, I used to be out in his storage someday and, opening a drawer, I discovered an outdated packet of images, grimy with mud on the again beneath a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white images with tough perforated edges confirmed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot filled with 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 nearer inspection, lifeless Korean soldiers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The complete horror present.
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 previous and left it at that. He never spoke of Korea except to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has stop talking of something, he by no means will. His solely remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an important child. You will be proud to have Island his title. Simply don’t use it round Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. Nobody in my household ever did. All by way of the years that I used to be rising up at residence, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left residence for the University and, in the way of young men within the 1960s and since, I got here upon rather a lot of recent and, to my younger thoughts, glorious concepts. A minor one of those was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I associated for some reason with young men with red hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I determined that I’d reject my family’s preferences and name myself by my given identify, ‘Gerard.’ In reality, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I’d insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my mother and father and would right them once they lapsed again to ‘Jerry.’
This angle served me nicely sufficient and shortly it appeared I had educated my bothers and my dad and mom in my new title. In fact, I’d taken this title not due to who my uncle had been or due to the trigger for which he gave his life, however for the egocentric motive that it merely sounded extra “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a scholar on the College of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US navy that was “brutally repressing” the individuals of Vietnam. We have been silly and younger and nothing that has occurred at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its stone island tracksuit full college students. If something, my period on the College simply made it one way or the other doable for Berkeley college students to suppose that their attitudes have been as noble and as pure of their minds as they have been silly and egocentric in actuality. I used to be now not a “Jerry” however a “Gerard” and I used to be going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
My title change plan went properly so long as I confined it to my rapid household and my pals on the College. It went so effectively that it made me even silly sufficient to attempt to increase it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their dwelling.
Sooner or later throughout the meal, my grandmother stated one thing like, “Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And since I was a really egocentric and stupid young man, I checked out her and mentioned, “Grandma, everybody here is aware of 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 partitions and then simply dropped down over the room like a large, darkish shroud.
No one moved. Very slowly each set of eyes of my household got here round and checked out me. Not offended, however simply wanting. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes had been wet, rose from the desk and mentioned, “No. I can’t do this. 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 till my grandfather rose from his chair and walked to the center of the hallway. He took a framed photograph off the wall the place hung subsequent 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 again to the table and very gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a clean-confronted handsome younger flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather-based flying jacket and leaning casually in opposition to the fuselage of a bomber. You might see the clear plastic within the nostril of the aircraft simply above his head to his right. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I checked out the image. “You usually are not Gerard. You simply have his identify, however you aren’t him. That is my son. He is Gerard. If you happen to don’t mind, we are going to proceed to name you Jerry on this home. In the event you do thoughts, you shouldn’t have to come back here any extra.”
Then he took the image away and put it back in its place on the wall. He knocked on the bedroom door, went in, and in a couple of minutes he and my grandmother got here again to the desk. No person else had stated a phrase. We’d simply sat there. I was wishing to be nearly anyplace else on the planet than the place I used to be.
They sat down and my grandmother mentioned, “So, Jerry, would you want some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My dad and mom never mentioned a word. Not then and never after. And, to their credit score, they continued to name me Gerard. However not at my grandparents’ home.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned in opposition to a monument in Battery Park in New York and skim a reputation minimize into stone among a listing of the lifeless. That way back Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to grasp what that title within 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 battle that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to grasp what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and mother and father, however I couldn’t. I used to be a baby of the lengthy peace who had prevented his struggle 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 but a father or mother. That might come a number of years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I’d finally begin, but only begin, to understand.
At present it makes me really feel low-cost and contemptible to consider the issues I did in my youth to level out all of the methods through which this country fails to attain some fantasied perfection. I was a small part of promulgating an awesome improper and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m positive there’s no making up for that. My likelihood 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, indirectly, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these way back moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Lengthy Conflict, I nonetheless can not declare to know the deep sense of responsibility and the strong feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never identified to sacrifice themselves. Currently though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World Conflict, I believe that, finally, I can one way or the other dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to give “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 quite a few instances. I once took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made a degree of going to the monument as soon as the way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
But if you happen to go the monument at this time, you possibly can nonetheless see the identify in the stone. It’s not my identify, 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 correct aspect of the monument trying in direction of the sea. The identify is normally in shadow and almost inconceivable to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You may see it, however you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you’re, you’re not that tall.