Sunday, January 9, 2011
A Story of an Old Soldier
I love facebook for many reasons. Keeping up with extended family and family living far away, and of course meeting and making friends with people around the world, with whom I never could have made connections, are just two of the blessings I have found on facebook . I have learned details of the war my husband has left home to fight, and seen the faces of people in the countries where he has been sent. I have come to know some of the people of these countries and now call them friends. They have given me great insight to the struggle going on in their homelands and the challenges standing in the way of lasting peace. Other family members of service persons going through some of the same experiences as myself have empowered and strengthened me. This clear help has happened both when the state from which I met the challenges of my husband's deployment with was positive, and when I found myself close to collapse.
I have come to know Soldiers from many of the countries making up the forty four Coalition Forces. Men and women who have banded together in this endeavor to preserve mankind and our God-given rights, and their noble hearts and lives, pledged to this effort, have been revealed to me. Their family members and I have shared and uplifted one another in good times and in difficult times. Ten years ago my husband's going to war would have been such a different experience, and much more difficult to bear, but the Internet and facebook have brought information and support I never would have known.
Another inspirational subsequence is I have come to know the stories of heroes from conflicts past, and for today's blog I offer a story written by one of my new friends discovered on facebook. As James and I have posted on our walls, we have come to know and share many things about war and our own lives being lived out against the background of this struggle. We have shared thoughts about our country and the direction in which it is headed, the divisions among our countrymen, which seem so much greater than at other times past, and the joys and hardships of our own daily lives. Of course, as always, my own conversation is full of my dear husband, "Colonel LeCompte."
James is a college student, and has writing assignments on a regular basis, I am often privileged to get to read these "stories" or assignments. Today he sent one that I found moving and delightful. It is the "story" of a boy and his grand-father, an old Soldier, who as MacArthur said, "fades away." It is also the story of the impressions his grand-son picks up and the life applications that result. So here for your enjoyment is James Echelbarger's latest writing assignment, the story of his grand-father and his memories of him. He was an old Soldier, known until the end as "The Colonel."
Grandma called him “The Colonel.” He retired a lieutenant colonel, but he was known as The Colonel. Sometimes Grandma called him “The Ogre.” It depended on my grandfather’s mood of the day and whether or not his steel-gray eyes were smiling or flashing with anger.
My childhood memories of The Colonel revolved around the television. We watched war movies together in The Colonel’s tiny den. The Colonel retired after twenty-eight years in the military. He was offered prestigious positions in other government agencies, including the U.S. Marshals. But after surviving three wars, The Colonel just wanted to sit in his tiny den, with its nautical theme, and watch TV. The Colonel usually sat on the small sofa with his gray tabby cat on his lap. I would sit in the rocking chair. The rocking chair also served as the desk chair. The TV sat on top of a dresser. The small sofa, desk and dresser were the only large pieces of furniture in the tiny den. The tiny den, one room of a small condominium, was the center of The Colonel’s world. It’s where we watched war movies. I was too young to put these war movies into any historical context, so I do not remember which war movie was what. But I do remember one was John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima; I remember another was Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back.
My grandfather was not much for conversation, and he rarely spoke about his military experience. I’ve had friends whose fathers and grandfathers told great war stories. They bragged how they won medals for valor. The Colonel did not even tell me he was at Iwo Jima. We watched all of The Sands of Iwo Jima, and my grandfather did not once say anything about having been a communication officer on an LST, having dropped Marines off on the beach, and having braved Kamikazes. After The Colonel’s passing, my grandmother told me The Colonel had served at Iwo Jima, as if it was some dark secret I was not supposed to know about when he was alive. Instead, my grandfather had only told me what a great guy John Wayne was.
The Colonel was short of stature, like me. This is why Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back My grandfather made me feel good about my height. The Colonel told me Audie Murphy was just a little guy, yet he was awarded every medal the military had to offer. My grandfather got me into sports where my lack of height would not make a difference: running, shooting, bowling and wrestling. I could see Audie Murphy doing all these things in the Army. is memorable.
My grandfather told me how to shoot a machine-gun. We were watching yet another war movie. A soldier held his machine-gun up over his head, reached over the top of the trench, and let loose a clip. The Colonel told me, “That doesn’t scare anyone.” He told me to fire a machine-gun the same way I fired a rifle: to actually raise my head up, line up the sights, and aim it. In the same movie there was a very brave soldier who later became a coward. The Colonel explained how people could change. Young, single soldiers were brave to the point of recklessness, but after becoming married and starting a family, they were a lot more careful. They did not volunteer as often.
My grandfather had his medals in the dresser where the TV rested. The Colonel never showed me his medals. Once, while watching a war movie, The Colonel told me he was awarded the Legion of Merit. I asked what for. My grandfather did not answer. He just pointed to the TV to imply the conversation was over. At The Colonel’s funeral service, my mom had all of my grandfather’s medals on display, with a photo of a general awarding my grandfather his Legion of Merit. I do not know which general, or which war, or which president signed the paperwork. (The Legion of Merit comes from the Commander in Chief.)
My friend’s fathers and grandfathers who bragged about their service all got high power jobs. They were police chiefs and corporate titans. They appeared on TV and in the newspapers. They had all the perks that come with power. And they seemed to get bigger and more powerful the older they got. The Colonel just faded away. He sat in front of his TV set and became more and more frail the older he got. Then he went on oxygen. Then he passed away. I envied my friends who were taught so much, and who had so much to brag about. I wondered why my grandfather was so secretive. Didn’t he want me to know a thing? It took a long time, and much thought, for me to realize that, in his own way, The Colonel taught me all he knew.