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 anyone else with the same title. I find out about one different man with my name, but we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his name 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 at the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since transferring to the town in 1974, it seemed like a vacation spot that can be interesting. Simply how fascinating, I had no means of realizing when i left.
August Sundays in New York might be the perfect times for the city. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their shoppers and most of the opposite skilled courses. The city appears almost deserted, the site visitors mild and, as you move down into Wall Road and the encompassing 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 continues to be cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the brilliant open area at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A few persons are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of individuals on the lawns of Battery Park. Every little thing is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way in which down to the Battery that day since, even though it appears to be flat, there is a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and obtained one of many dubious Sabaretts hot canines and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We had been within the midst of what now can be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over every thing, thought of, if they had been thought of 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 just about on the midway level between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The one battle we knew of was the Second World Warfare and the background humm of the Cold Struggle. It was a summer season Sunday and we have been within the midst of what now could be seen as “The Lengthy 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 broad, 20 toes tall and 3 ft thick. From a distance you would see that they had words carved into them from prime to bottom. There was additionally quite a lot 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 wanting on the stone across from me on that warm afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the phrases reduce into the stones have been all names. Simply names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their dying within the north Atlantic in WWII. I was to be taught later that there have been four,601 names. All misplaced within the frigid waters, all with none marker for their graves — besides these in the hearts of these they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up around me.
I learn across several rows, shifting proper to left, then down a row, after which right to left. I obtained to the tip 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. Minimize into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
In case you have an unusual name, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in an inventory of the lifeless on a summer season Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t actually remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I grew to become chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I’d always recognized why, however I’d by no means recognized in regards to the stone or the names lower into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, after all, not me. He was someone else fully. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died before I used to be even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s center brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide in the Second World Battle. He was one in every of their three sons. He was lifeless earlier than he was 22 years previous. His physique never recovered, the precise time and place of his loss of life over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was at all times referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” is just not a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary child born after his loss of life, I used to be given his identify, Gerard. But as a baby I was never called by that identify. I used to be all the time referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” shouldn’t be a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. However “Jerry” I could be as a result of the mere point out of the title “Gerard” was enough to ship my grandmother into a darkish mind-set that might last 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 may barely communicate of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was mistaken to ask.
My father, who was refused service in the Second World Battle resulting from a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the guts murmur that will 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 amazing, brave kid.”
My uncle, the baby of the family, spent a yr or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that warfare first hand. He was my solely living relative who’d been in a battle. He would by no means converse of his battle in any respect, nevertheless it will need to have been very bad certainly.
… a helmet shot filled with holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it…
I know this as a result of, when I used to be a teenager, I was out in his storage one day and, opening a drawer, I found an previous packet of pictures, grimy with mud on the back underneath a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white pictures with tough perforated edges showed some very disturbing issues: a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothes on patches of soiled snow that proved to be, on nearer inspection, dead Korean troopers; a pile of our bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The full horror present.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t half with them. At the identical time he couldn’t take a look at them. So he shoved them into a drawer with other unused junk from his past and left it at that. He never spoke of Korea besides to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has stop speaking of anything, he by no means will. His only remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that stone island garment dyed jacket of my father, “He was an excellent child. You might be proud to have his name. Just don’t use it around Grandma.”
And i didn’t. No one in my household ever did. All through the years that I was growing up at home, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left home for the University and, in the manner of young men within the 1960s and since, I came upon a lot of latest and, to my young mind, excellent ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I associated for some motive with young men with red 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.’ The truth is, in the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I’d insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my dad and mom and would right them when they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This attitude served me nicely sufficient and shortly it seemed I had skilled my bothers and my parents in my new identify. Of course, I’d taken this identify not because of who my uncle had been or due to the cause for which he gave his life, but for the egocentric purpose that it merely sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I was a student on the University of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US military that was “brutally repressing” the people of Vietnam. We were silly and younger and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my period at the College just made it by some means attainable for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure of their minds as they were stupid and egocentric in reality. I used to be no longer a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I was going to make the world safe from America.
“Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My identify change plan went nicely as long as I confined it to my immediate household and my buddies at the College. It went so properly that it made me even stupid sufficient to attempt to extend it to my grandparents throughout a Thanksgiving at their dwelling.
In some unspecified time in the future in the course of the meal, my grandmother said something like, “Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And since I used to be a really egocentric and stupid young man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everybody right 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 came into the room. It rose out of the middle of the table and expanded until it reached the partitions after which simply dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
No one moved. Very slowly each set of eyes of my household came round and looked at me. Not indignant, however just trying. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes have been wet, rose from the desk and stated, “No. I can’t try this. 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 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 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 desk and very gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a easy-faced handsome younger flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually in opposition to the fuselage of a bomber. You would see the clear plastic in the nostril of the airplane just above his head to his right. On the image, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I looked at the image. “You should not Gerard. You just have his title, but you aren’t him. That’s my son. He is Gerard. Should you don’t thoughts, we are going to continue to call you Jerry in this home. Should you do thoughts, you don’t have to return here any more.”
Then he took the image away and put it again 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 back to the table. No person else had said a phrase. We’d simply sat there. I was wishing to be nearly anyplace else on the earth than the place I was.
They sat down and my grandmother stated, “So, Jerry, would you like some more creamed onions ”
I nodded, they have been handed and the meal went on. My mother and father never mentioned a phrase. Not then and never after. And, to their credit score, they continued to call me Gerard. However not at my grandparents’ house.
A decade passed.
In 1975, I leaned in opposition to a monument in Battery Park in New York and browse a reputation reduce into stone amongst an inventory of the lifeless. That long ago Thanksgiving scene got here again to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to know what that identify within the stone had meant to my household when it became the one thing that remained of their center son; a man who’d been swallowed up within the Atlantic throughout a battle that completed earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to know what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and dad and mom, but I could not. I used to be a toddler of the lengthy peace who had avoided 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 used to be thirty then and not but a mum or dad. That may come a few years later and, with the beginning of my daughter, I’d eventually begin, but solely start, to know.
At the moment it makes me really feel low-cost and contemptible to consider the things I did in my youth to point out all of the ways during which this nation fails to realize some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small a part of promulgating a fantastic unsuitable and a big lie for a long time, and I’m certain there’s no making up for Stone Island Outlet that. My probability to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the title on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to strive, ultimately, 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’t declare to grasp the deep sense of responsibility and the strong feeling of honor that drove males just like the uncle I’ve by no means recognized to sacrifice themselves. These days though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World War, I feel that, eventually, I can someway dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to offer “the last full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, should do.
Since finding his identify on the stone in 1975, I’ve been again to that place quite a few instances. I once took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made some extent of going to the monument as quickly as the way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
However if you happen to go the monument at present, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the identify within the stone. It’s not my name, however the title of a man a lot better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the suitable aspect of the monument wanting in direction of the sea. The identify is usually in shadow and virtually impossible to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You can see it, but you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you might be, you’re not that tall.