The Identify Within the Stone
On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My identify, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no stone island sweatshirt fit means met anyone else with the identical identify. I find out about one other man with my identify, but we’ve never met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. This 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 condominium 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 town in 1974, it seemed like a destination that can be attention-grabbing. Simply how interesting, I had no method of understanding after i left.
August Sundays in New York may be the very best instances for town. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their shoppers and most of the other skilled lessons. The city appears almost deserted, the traffic gentle and, as you move down into Wall Street and the encompassing areas, it becomes nearly non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that type the underside of the narrow canyons of buildings the place, even at mid-day, it is still 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. All the pieces is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way down to the Battery that day since, regardless that 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 dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.
We had been in the midst of what now will be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over every thing, thought of, if 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 just about on the midway level between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The one struggle we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Chilly Warfare. It was a summer time Sunday and we were within the midst of what now may be seen as “The Long Peace.”
In entrance of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught Cheap Stone Island my consideration. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 ft huge, 20 feet tall and three toes thick. From a distance you could see that that they had phrases carved into them from top to backside. There was additionally a number of shade between them so I took my scorching canine 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 again as I sat there wanting at the stone throughout from me on that warm afternoon. As I appeared up it dawned on me that the phrases cut into the stones were all names. Just names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their loss of life in the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to be taught later that there were 4,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all without any marker for his or her graves — except those within the hearts of these they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn throughout several rows, transferring right to left, then down a row, and then proper to left. I received to the top of the sixth row and went again to the beginning of the seventh row.
Firstly of the seventh row, I learn the title: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Reduce into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.
When you have an unusual title, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the useless on a summer season Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling besides to know that, for a lot of lengthy moments, I turned chilled.
When that handed, I knew why my name was within the stone. I’d always identified why, however I’d never recognized in regards to the stone or the names cut into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, of course, not me. He was someone else totally. 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 family had given to cease Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide within the Second World Battle. He was certainly one of their three sons. He was dead earlier than he was 22 years previous. His physique never recovered, the exact time and place of his dying over the Atlantic, unknown.
I used to be all the time referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” is just not a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the first youngster born after his demise, I used to be given his title, Gerard. But as a child I was never referred to as by that identify. I was always referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” will not be a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that title. But “Jerry” I can be as a result of the mere mention of the title “Gerard” was sufficient to ship my grandmother into a dark frame of mind that would final for weeks. This was true, as far as I do know, for all the days of her life and she lived properly into her 80s.
My grandfather might barely communicate of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was incorrect to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Conflict because of a bout of rheumatic fever as a child that left him with the center murmur that will kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t struggle and wouldn’t speak of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was an important, brave kid.”
My uncle, the baby of the family, spent a 12 months or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that struggle first hand. He was my solely residing relative who’d been in a war. He would by no means speak of his conflict at all, nevertheless it should have been very unhealthy certainly.
… a helmet shot stuffed with holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it…
I know this because, when I used to be a teenager, I used to be out in his storage sooner or later and, opening a drawer, I found an previous packet of photographs, grimy with mud at the again below a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white pictures with tough perforated edges confirmed some very disturbing issues: a helmet shot stuffed with holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothes on patches of dirty snow that proved to be, on nearer inspection, useless Korean troopers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The total 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 other unused junk from his previous and left it at that. He by no means spoke of Korea except to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has quit speaking of something, he never will. His solely comment to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a great kid. You may be proud to have his title. Simply don’t use it round Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. Nobody in my family ever did. All by means of the years that I used to be rising up at residence, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left house for the College and, in the way of younger men in the 1960s and since, I got here upon rather a lot of latest and, to my young thoughts, wonderful ideas. A minor one of those was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I related for some cause with younger men with purple hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I would reject my family’s preferences and name myself by my given title, ‘Gerard.’ In actual fact, in the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I’d insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my parents and would correct them after they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This angle served me properly enough and shortly it appeared I had trained my bothers and my dad and mom in my new identify. In fact, I’d taken this title not because of who my uncle had been or because of the trigger for which he gave his life, however for the selfish purpose that it merely sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I was a pupil at the College of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US navy that was “brutally repressing” the folks of Vietnam. We had been stupid and young and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has changed the youth and stupidity of its students. If something, my period on the University just made it somehow potential for Berkeley students to suppose that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure in their minds as they had been silly and selfish in actuality. I was now not a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I used to be going to make the world safe from America.
“Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
My identify change plan went properly as long as I confined it to my quick household and my pals on the University. It went so nicely that it made me even silly sufficient to strive to extend it to my grandparents throughout a Thanksgiving at their residence.
At some point throughout the meal, my grandmother said something like, “Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And since I used to be a very egocentric and silly younger man, I looked at her and mentioned, “Grandma, everybody right here is aware of that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just 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 walls and then simply dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
Nobody moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my household came round and checked out me. Not offended, however just looking. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes have been wet, rose from the table and mentioned, “No. I can’t do this. I just 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 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 workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked back to the desk and very gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a clean-faced handsome young 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 may see the clear plastic in the nostril of the plane 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 checked out the image. “You should not Gerard. You just have his title, but you are not him. That is my son. He is Gerard. For those who don’t mind, we’ll continue to call you Jerry in this home. In case you do thoughts, you should not have to come back 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 desk. No one else had said a phrase. We’d simply sat there. I was wishing to be just about anyplace else in the world than where I used to be.
They sat down and my grandmother mentioned, “So, Jerry, would you like some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they have been handed and the meal went on. My stone island sweatshirt fit mother and father by no means 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 handed.
In 1975, I leaned in opposition to a monument in Battery Park in New York and read a reputation reduce into stone amongst a listing of the dead. That long ago Thanksgiving scene got here again to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to grasp what that title in 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 in the Atlantic during a warfare that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to grasp what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and dad and mom, but I couldn’t. I used to be a baby of the lengthy peace who had averted his conflict 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 used to be thirty then and never but a mother or father. That will come a few years later and, with the beginning of my daughter, I would eventually begin, but only start, to know.
Right this moment it makes me feel low-cost and contemptible to think about the issues I did in my youth to level out all of the ways by which this nation fails to realize some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small a part of promulgating an awesome flawed and a large lie for a long time, and I’m sure there’s no making up for that. My likelihood 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 attempt, indirectly, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these way back moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long Battle, I still can’t declare to understand the deep sense of responsibility and the strong feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never recognized to sacrifice themselves. Lately although, as we transfer deeper into the Fourth World Battle, I believe that, ultimately, I can in some way dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to present “the final full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, should do.
Since finding his identify on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place quite a few instances. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made a point of going to the monument as soon as the way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the final time.
But should you go the monument in the present day, you’ll be able to still see the title in the stone. It’s not my title, however the name of a man a lot better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the best side of the monument wanting in direction of the sea. The title is usually in shadow and almost impossible to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You can see it, however you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you’re, you’re not that tall.